A group of sick and dying former smokers seeking compensation from Japan Tobacco Inc. and the government had their case thrown out of the Tokyo District Court on Tuesday because the judge ruled they had taken up smoking of their own free will.

The damages lawsuit, filed in 1998 by seven former smokers who began suffering what they claim are tobacco-related diseases, was the first of its kind.

The plaintiffs, who smoked regularly for decades, contracted diseases such as throat cancer and emphysema. Four have since died.