Death, disease not linked to smoking: high court

by Masami Ito

The Tokyo High Court on Wednesday dismissed an appeal filed by former smokers, some now deceased, who were each demanding 10 million yen in compensation from Japan Tobacco Inc. and the government for tobacco-induced illnesses.

The six plaintiffs claimed to have contracted lung cancer, throat cancer and emphysema from smoking cigarettes for periods ranging from 33 to 50 years.

Three of the plaintiffs died after the lawsuit was filed in 1998 and family members have continued to press their cases.

Presiding Judge Toshinobu Akiyama said Wednesday that he supports the Tokyo District Court’s ruling in July 2004 that the court “cannot affirm the causal relationship between smoking and the diseases of the plaintiffs and the deceased plaintiffs.”

In Wednesday’s ruling, Akiyama noted that while smoking does endanger one’s health, there are other substances in the environment that can lead to cancer.

Such factors must be considered comprehensively when referring to the dangers brought about by smoking, the judge said, adding that the effects of tobacco on the human body have not yet been thoroughly clarified.

Akiyama also ruled that compared to other addictive substances, including heroine, cocaine and alcohol, nicotine addiction is relatively weak.

The plaintiffs’ head lawyer, Yoshio Isayama, slammed the ruling, saying it virtually denies the existence of the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, which Japan ratified last June and took effect this February.

The preamble of the FCTC states that “scientific evidence has unequivocally established that tobacco consumption and exposure to tobacco smoke causes death, disease and disability.”

“With (the ruling) almost completely denying the contents of the international convention, what does the government plan to do now?” Isayama asked. “Is it planning to withdraw from the convention?”

Jun Araki, the son of one of the deceased plaintiffs, also expressed anger.

“This ruling placed priority on the annual 2.3 trillion yen in (tobacco) tax revenue over the precious lives and health of the Japanese people,” Araki said, adding the plaintiffs will appeal to the Supreme Court.