In the nation’s first such ruling, the Tokyo District Court on Monday awarded 50,000 yen in damages to a municipal employee who was a victim of passive smoking in the workplace.

The government of Edogawa Ward in Tokyo failed to take sufficient safety precautions for 36-year-old Masahiro Kawamura, who had demanded around 300,000 yen in damages, the court said.

Presiding Judge Akio Doi said, “The ward government, which oversees workplace facilities, has an obligation to see to it that protection is provided for the life and health of the plaintiff from passive smoking.”

Praising the ruling, Kawamura said Edogawa Ward’s mayor and other senior officials “should reflect on their decision not to ban smoking.”

In January 1996, Kawamura handed the office a medical diagnosis saying his health would deteriorate if he remained in the same work environment. Three months later, he was transferred to another office that had a designated smoking area.

“Regardless of whether there is a link between (smoking) and the damage to (the plaintiff’s) health, leaving him unattended (for three months) is a violation of the (municipal government’s) obligation to take safety precautions,” the judge said.

Kawamura was employed by the Edogawa Municipal Government in April 1995, working in a section where smoking is permitted. He later complained of respiratory problems as well as neck and shoulder pains, which he attributed to passive smoking.

He asked his supervisor that smoking areas be designated. The ward government responded by installing ventilators, but failed to create a smoking area or shift his desk.

Previous lawsuits involving passive smoking have all been rejected, with court judgments usually stating that no to health problems have been proven.

These lawsuits include one filed by nonsmokers calling for more nonsmoking train cars and another by lung cancer patients seeking compensation from tobacco firms.

Sumo smoking ban

The Japan Sumo Association announced Monday it will ban smoking in all seats at the Ryogoku Kokugikan in Tokyo, beginning with the New Year Grand Sumo Tournament in January.

Smoking is currently banned in principle at the spectator stand of the stadium, with the exception of the pricey “masuseki” box seats.

Isenoumi, one of the association’s directors, said smoking corners would be designated at other parts of the facility, although these spaces would be limited.

The latest move was taken in response to calls from citizens’ groups and a notice from the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry in June calling for smoking and nonsmoking areas to be separated, the association said.

Spectators at the Autumn Grand Sumo Tournament, which will be held at the Ryogoku Kokugikan in September, will be encouraged to cut down on their smoking and will be informed of the new policy, the association said.

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