A request by a health organization in Japan that its job openings in nursing and related occupations were specified as being limited to non-smokers has been declined by a local public employment agency after it deemed smoking ‘a matter of personal choice,’ according to a Mainichi Daily News story. The original, Japanese-language story was written by Yoshihiko Saito.

The Chiba Foundation for Health Promotion & Disease Prevention, which is based in Chiba Prefecture’s Mihama Ward, east of Tokyo, expressed disappointment at the job center’s refusal because, it said, the request ‘was for the promotion of health’.

Meanwhile, the Hello Work employment office countered that ‘individuals should be selected based on their skills and competency’.

The foundation, which conducts medical examinations, has made public on its website since last year its policy of limiting job opportunities to non-smokers as part of its efforts to curb smoking.

However, an official at the employment office said that smoking was a personal choice and that it was not possible publicly to announce such requirements.

The official said the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare sought a “fair selection process” based on individuals’ skills and competency.

“We wanted to open the door to as many applicants as possible,” the official said.

Professor Hiroshi Yamato at the University of Occupational and Environmental Health, Japan, who studies measures to prevent smoking, said the employment office had made a mistake in its decision. “Patients face the possibility of suffering from second-hand smoke if people who smoke are hired,” said Yamato. “It’s essential for such health industries to hire only non-smokers.”

But economist Takuro Morinaga, a regular smoker, said that the job center had acted appropriately. “Just as it’s wrong to discriminate against people because of their origin, it’s also not right to exclude individuals because they smoke,” Morinaga said.

Meanwhile, the employment security section of the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare said that requiring non-smokers for certain jobs ‘cannot categorically be considered discrimination, if there are rational reasons behind such moves’.

At Public Employment Security Offices across Japan, there had been at least 20 job postings for nurses, restaurant workers, and other occupations that specifically required non-smokers. 

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