Recently Japan Tobacco Inc. (JT) and the state were successful in their defense against a damages suit in which three people had sought ¥10 million each for health problems — cancer and pulmonary emphysema — allegedly caused by smoking. Still, the Jan. 20 Yokohama District Court ruling, which the plaintiffs appealed Feb. 1, includes points that JT and the government should seriously consider.
The ruling covered the period from 1947 to 1993, when the three smoked. (One is already dead.) Dismissing the compensation requests, the ruling said it is difficult to conclude that JT was aware during that period that an unspecified large number of people would suffer from tobacco-related diseases and die.
It cited facts advantageous to JT: that, like consumption of alcohol, smoking is a voluntary decision; that the tobacco package warns users to “Be careful about smoking too much;” and that JT’s position as a tobacco products producer has legal backing.
But it said smoking is a leading cause of cancer and increases the risk of pulmonary emphysema. The ruling added that smoking dependence should never be made light of — a stronger assertion than a 2006 Supreme Court ruling, which said smoking dependence is weaker than alcohol dependence.
The court almost acknowledged illegality on the part of JT. It said the fact that the company continued production and sale of tobacco products while aware that smoking causes health problems and dependence cannot help being considered a factor in building the foundation of a case for illegality.
The ruling’s additional statement says the public should discuss what to do about tobacco production and sales, and that the Diet should make a final decision on the matter after taking into consideration the fact that knowledge of smoking’s effects has deepened and policy measures to promote public health have progressed since 1993.
The government has decided to raise the tobacco tax and abolish the tobacco business law. It and the Diet should quickly act in the belief that reducing smoking will improve people’s health and thus help cut the nation’s medical expenses.
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