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CAMP FOSTER — Next year will come with more than 4,000 fewer places for smokers to light up on Okinawa.

The Okinawa Taxi Association announced Wednesday it will ban smoking in cabs — for drivers starting Feb. 1 and passengers on April 1.

Joining what he termed was the trend toward a smokeless society, the association decided to make all 4,070 of its taxis smoke free, the association’s senior official said.

“Any time of the day, smoking in a taxi will not be acceptable after April 1,” said Yoshikatsu Arakaki, chief of the association’s labor management office.

He said the association’s new policy is welcomed by the majority of its members.

“A survey we conducted of our members last July showed that 87 percent of them support the nonsmoking policy,” he said.

Japan, which is known to be one of the most smoking-tolerant among industrialized countries, is changing its tobacco habit. Awareness concerning the health hazards of smoking grew after a no-smoking lawsuit was filed in 2004 in Tokyo by 26 cab drivers and passengers who said their health was endangered by secondhand smoke.

Smoking in cabs already has been banned in some prefectures and cities on the mainland, including Kanagawa. Tokyo and Hiroshima will join them in January, followed by Fukuoka and Okinawa in April.

To prepare Okinawa passengers for the ban, which does carry the weight of law, taxis will begin to carry no-smoking signs starting next month.

“Success of this program depends on how much support and understanding they can get from the public,” Arakaki said.

As part of its campaign, the association will distribute information to the drivers on how to politely ask a passenger not to smoke, he added. “If a passenger needs to smoke, we will offer him or her a portable ashtray and ask him to smoke before getting into a taxi,” he said.

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