A court in Zhengzhou, Henan province, has overturned a decision ordering a doctor to compensate the family of an elderly man who died after a quarrel over smoking in an elevator.
The doctor, identified only as Yang, was told to pay 15,000 yuan ($2,340) in damages in September after the city's Jinshui district court ruled he should "share the loss" from the death.
Yang got into a heated exchange with the deceased, surnamed Duan, on May 2 in a residential community elevator after he asked the elderly man to stop smoking. Shortly after, Duan suffered a fatal heart attack.

A court in central China’s Henan Province yesterday overruled an appeal filed by the family of a smoker who died of a heart attack after an argument with a man who asked him to stop smoking in a lift.

The Intermediate People’s Court of Zhengzhou said the behavior of the defendant Yang Jun was “lawful” and was an act “safeguarding public interest.”

The court overruled earlier rulings, rejected the plaintiff’s compensation claim, and asked the plaintiff to pay litigation costs of over 14,000 yuan (US$2,180). The family of the elderly smoker had claimed more than 400,000 yuan from Yang, after the smoker died of a heart attack following the argument with Yang last May.

The smoker’s family subsequently sued Yang, claiming the argument had played a role in triggering the heart attack.

Last September, the People’s Court of Jinshui District ruled that Yang’s behavior did not lead to the smoker’s death but ordered Yang to pay the family compensation of 15,000 yuan.

The family appealed against the court’s decision to the Intermediate People’s Court of Zhengzhou. The court heard the appeal last November but pronounced the final judgment yesterday.

The case has attracted nationwide attention, as many criticized the initial ruling against Yang and acclaimed the final judgment.

“Yang showed a citizen’s responsibility by trying to stop a smoker in the lift. If the court asks citizens who exercise their lawful rights to pay compensation, it will dent their enthusiasm to ensure the public interest is safeguarded,” said Hu Yaping, a deputy to Henan’s provincial people’s congress.

There are an estimated 300 million smokers and 740 million people exposed to secondhand smoke in China. Although there is no national law on indoor smoking, a regulation in 2011 banned smoking in indoor public spaces including lifts.

The country has banned some tobacco advertisements, increased taxes and put forward regional smoking bans since it ratified the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control in 2003.

As of 2016, 18 cities, including Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen, had smoking bans.

“The final ruling is support for national tobacco control and for those who get up the courage to say no to secondhand smoke,” said Jiang Yuan, an officer with Tobacco Control Office under the Chinese Center For Disease Control And Prevention.


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