Almost all taxis in Tokyo introduced a ban on smoking on Monday as fewer and fewer people light up in Japan, long a haven for tobacco.
Some 52,000 taxis, accounting for 95 percent of those in the capital, put up no-smoking stickers. Taxi-industry officials distributed tissue packets advertising the new policy.
'We acted upon the request of passengers,' said a spokesman for the Tokyo Taxi Association, which represents 34,000 taxis. 'Most other means of transportation had already gone smoke-free and taxis had been lagging behind.'
But drivers were equipped with portable ashtrays and can pull over if passengers insist on smoking, he said.
'We have advised drivers to ask passengers to get out of the cars and smoke with the ashtrays,' he said, adding the drivers would wait while their customers puffed away.
The small number of independently run taxis in Tokyo are free to continue to allow smoking.
Taxis in suburban Saitama prefecture and Japan's central Fukui prefecture also banned smoking, making taxis in 15 of Japan's 47 prefectures non-smoking.
Television footage showed a middle-aged man fuming after he got off a flight to Tokyo from Osaka.
'I'm looking for a smoking car as I had to put up with the ban during my flight,' he said.
Japan's smoking rate fell to 26.0 percent in 2007, according to Japan Tobacco Inc. Some 14.3 percent of those in their 20s light up against 32.7 percent among people in their 60s or older.
Smoking is prohibited in public places and on some city streets. But it is still commonplace in Japan's bars and restaurants, unlike in most other developed countries.