Hoping to turn Japan’s tobacco industry on its head, seven sufferers from tobacco-related illnesses and their lawyers filed a lawsuit against Japan Tobacco Inc. and the government Friday at Tokyo District Court.

The plaintiffs are requesting 70 million yen in compensation for health damages they allegedly suffered from smoking cigarettes sold by Japan Tobacco.

The petition lists four other demands:

1) that tobacco sales through vending machines be banned;

2) that advertising on television and radio be stopped;

3) that promotions at public and sports events be halted;

4) that a more stringent warning label be printed on cigarette boxes.

While similar suits have been filed in Nagoya, this marks the first time victims of tobacco-related diseases have filed a suit in Tokyo against Japan Tobacco. “Japan’s smoking regulations are 30 years behind America’s and Europe’s. The government has ignored calls by the World Health Organization since 1974 to abolish tobacco vending machines, require warning labels and protect children from smoking,” said Yoshio Isayama, chief attorney representing the plaintiffs.

Isayama criticized the government and Japan Tobacco’s warning labels as “a huge deception” and castigated the industry for consistently concealing information about the risks of tobacco while trying to expand the market.

Japan Tobacco’s position is that tobacco has a long history as an adult luxury good and that the plaintiffs have no reason to demand damages in court. All seven of the plaintiffs suffer from lung cancer, throat cancer or emphysema.

“I do not want today’s young people to have to experience what I have suffered through,” said Teruo Araki, 71, who lives in Amami Oshima, Kagoshima Prefecture. Araki, who was diagnosed with lung cancer in 1981 and has had part of his lung removed, attended the press conference with his oxygen tank, which he said he uses at least a few hours every day.

Isayama called the behavior of the government and Japan Tobacco deceptive and said that warning labels sold on Japanese cigarettes at home should be at least as direct as those exported to places such as Hawaii.

Cigarette packages sold in Japan warn consumers not to smoke too much, but merely cite that smoking may possibly be detrimental to their health. The plaintiffs are calling on Japan Tobacco to specifically mention that smoking may cause cancer and heart diseases.

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