Landmark Ruling in Japan on Passive Smoking

The Tokyo District Court ruled July 12 that, for the first time, an employer must pay compensation to an office worker for health problems stemming from second-hand smoke at the workplace.

Masahiro Kawamura's employer was ordered to pay 50,000 yen approximately US$460 in damages. The court found that Kawamura's employer took insufficient measures to provide a healthy working environment, even after Kawamura presented them with a doctor's diagnosis that his medical problems were related to exposure to second-hand smoke.

Kawamura, who worked at the Edogawa Ward office in Tokyo since April 1995, filed his lawsuit in 1999, seeking 320,000 yen (approximately US$3,000) to cover medical costs related to second-hand smoke.

He filed the lawsuit in June 1999 and had sought about 320,000 yen to cover medical and other costs for health problems related to passive smoking.

Kawamura told Japan's Herald Tribune/Asahi, "I imagine there are similar problems at various workplaces. But I'd like people to consider the implications of the court's ruling and resolve their problems before they are taken to court."

"The [employer] has a responsibility to take measures to protect the life and health of the plaintiff from passive smoking," said Presiding Judge Akio Doi.

Employers in Japan are slowly beginning to ban smoking in the workplace, and the country's anti-smoking group, Tobacco Problems Information Center, said that 17 smoking-related lawsuits ranging from requiring smokers to smoke in a specified area away from nonsmokers to stopping the manufacture and sale of tobacco products have been filed in Japan.

Bungaku Watanabe, representative of Tobacco Problems Information Center, admitted that Japan was approximately 20 years behind the United States in terms of workplace policies banning smoking, "But Monday's court decision indicates that the issue of passive smoking is being understood in this country, too," he added.

A May 2003 law requires that 11 types of facilities, including schools, hospitals and restaurants to create nonsmoking areas or adopt nonsmoking hours of operation.

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