In an effort to convince more of its workers to quit smoking and improve their health, one Japanese company believes it may have found a winning incentive: an extra week of paid vacation.

Piala Inc., a Tokyo-based online marketing company, unveiled the benefit to its workforce in September after receiving complaints from non-smokers that their counterparts were enjoying far more breaks during the workday. To balance the scales, executives decided to offer six additional days of vacation to the roughly 70 precent of its employees who followed a smoke-free lifestyle.

"I hope to encourage employees to quit smoking through incentives rather than penalties or coercion," chief executive Takao Asuka told the Kyodo News.

Despite a downward trend in recent years in the use of tobacco products in Japan, almost 20 percent of the population still smokes. Secondhand smoke in particular is a constant health threat, with smokers free to light up in restaurants, bars and other public spaces. According to government and World Health Organization estimates, more than 15,000 people in Japan die each year from secondhand smoke.

As you can see in the photo below, public spaces in Japan are eerily reminiscent of what U.S. customers might have encountered before statewide bans took off in the mid-1990s.

Pushing healthy change

People smoke in designated smoking area in Japanese railway station Unidentified people smoke in designated smoking area in a Japanese railway station. Smokers are sectioned off in public spaces and restaurants, but there's still the issue of secondhand smoke. (Photo: Ko Backpacko/Shutterstock.com)

Health experts are hopeful that the upcoming 2020 Summer Olympics in Japan may finally force the government to enforce anti-smoking regulations. Previous host cities, such as Rio de Janeiro, banned smoking in all public spaces to guarantee a safe environment for athletes and visitors alike.

"The time is right for Japan to finally catch up now with the Olympics just around the corner," Douglas Bettcher, WHO's director for prevention of non-communicable disease, said at a news conference earlier this year. He added that the global event is a "golden opportunity for Japan to better protect its people from the deadly effects of exposure to secondhand smoke."

For companies like Piala, even small changes can have a big impact. Since offering the extra vacation time in September, four out of the firm's 42 daily smokers have given up the habit.

Michael d'Estries ( @michaeldestries ) covers science, technology, art, and the beautiful, unusual corners of our incredible world.