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Wednesday, Dec. 21, 2005

Suit over taxi smoke rejected


Staff writer

The Tokyo District Court on Tuesday rejected a 13.6 million yen lawsuit filed by taxi drivers and customers who accused the government of damaging their health by failing to curb passive smoking in cabs.

The lawsuit, filed by three taxi drivers and 23 customers in July 2004, cites a 1979 World Health Organization recommendation that smoking be restricted in public places.

"Not prohibiting smoking in taxis is an issue that should be resolved between the taxi companies and their employees," presiding Judge Hiroyuki Shibata said in turning down the compensation demand.

But he also said indirectly that the government is partly responsible for taking action to restrict smoking in taxis.

"It would be difficult for immediate improvement just by leaving it up to the taxi companies," Shibata said.

"The fact that taxi drivers are constantly subjected to passive smoking in a small, sealed taxi where a division of smoking and nonsmoking areas is impossible," cannot be overlooked, he said.

Afterward, the plaintiffs said they have decided not to appeal the ruling, claiming the judge's suggestion that the government bears some responsibility for restricting smoking in taxis amounted to a victory in itself.

"Money was never an issue for me," said taxi driver and plaintiff Koichi Yasui. "I want to spread nonsmoking cabs so customers have easy access to them, and at the same time I want taxi drivers to be able to protect their health with dignity."

"Allowing smoking in taxis has always been said to be a part of a taxi's service," Yasui said. "And as the first driver to start a nonsmoking taxi, I felt it was my duty to file this lawsuit."

According to the plaintiffs, of the 270,000 taxis nationwide, only 5,400, or 2 percent, are nonsmoking vehicles.

Supporters for the plaintiff said there have been 25 antismoking lawsuits so far, including plaintiffs seeking nonsmoking environments at their office and on the train.



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