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Should non-smokers get more leave?

Should companies encourage their employees to quit smoking by giving them time off?

Tokyo-based company Piala has introduced more time off for non-smokers.

According to The Telegraph, Piala’s head office is on the 29th floor of an office building. This means that smokers take 15 minutes each for their breaks in the basement smoking area. They agreed to give resentful non-smokers six days extra annual leave to compensate.

In a poll that received almost 800 responses, Mail & Guardian readers were asked what they thought. The majority, more than 70%, wanted Piala’s solution to be implemented in South Africa.

But one disgruntled smoker argued that it was unfair. She said that no one has proved that smokers are less productive than their non-smoking counterparts.

“I feel more refreshed after my 15-minute smoke break. I feel that I can handle my workload better.”

A psychologist lecturer agrees with her. Andrew Thatcher, a professor of industrial and organisational psychology at the University of the Witwatersrand, said non-smokers should take more micro-breaks.

Although there is no current research that looks at the productivity of smokers and non-smokers, Thatcher, a non-smoker himself, believed micro-breaks were “good for productivity, psychological and physical health — provided you are not smoking”.

In Japan, 28.2% of men and 9% of women smoke. In South Africa, 37% of men and 6.8% of women use tobacco, according to scientist Catherine Egbe. She added that smoking is “the single most preventable cause of death in the world”.

READ MORE: Smokers struggle more to find jobs

South Africa has tightened its tobacco laws, with a new tobacco control Bill that wants to ban smoking in all public places. Current legislation allows smoking in designated areas such as in pubs and restaurants (as long as the smoking area is less than 25% of the public space).

The Bill also aims to ban cigarette advertising at tills, which means that all cigarette cartons will have uniform packaging with a written and visual health warning. And, if passed, the Bill will bring an end to cigarette vending machines, and e-cigarettes will fall under the same regulations as cigarettes.

The reason for tightening the law? Savera Kalideen, the executive director of the National Council Against Smoking, said the legislation will decrease the effects of second-hand smoke on the majority of South Africans, who are non-smokers.

Although Kalideen thought the initiative by the Japanese company had potential, she did not think it would work in South Africa. “We just don’t have that kind of mind-set [like that of Japan],” she said.

Webber Wentzel associate Joani van Vuuren said that, although South African employment law does not make specific recommendations about breaks, employers should be cautious before introducing a policy that differentiates employees based on whether or not they smoke.

“If an employer allows a 10 to 15 minute break twice a day an emplo-yee should be allowed to decide what that time is spent doing,” Van Vuuren argued.

Since Piala initiated its incentive, it has reported that at least a quarter of the company’s 120 employees have taken the extra days off and four people have quit smoking.

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