Student's lawsuit claimed her rights as a passenger were violated on journey
A Beijing court ordered a railway authority on Monday to eliminate smoking areas and remove ashtrays on trains to provide a better traveling environment for passengers.
The Beijing Railway Transport Court gave the order to the Harbin Railway Bureau in a ruling that said the removal of smoking-related facilities and zones would protect the public interest.
"People's rights sometimes come into conflict in a closed space, such as trains," the verdict said. "Passengers' rights to stay healthy in coaches, we believe, is more important than the rights of smokers."
Sun Weihong, the railway bureau's attorney, said after the announcement that the authority had taken measures to eliminate smoking, including informing passengers not to smoke, when it was taken to court last year.
The bureau hasn't decided whether to appeal, Sun said.
In June last year, a female passenger, identified only by her surname, Li, traveled from Beijing to Tianjin on train K1301. During the trip, she found many passengers smoking between the carriages, even though the company's safety instructions say that smoking is banned everywhere on the train.
After filing a series of complaints and getting no useful response, Li, who is a college student, sued the bureau. The lawsuit was heard in December.
During the trial, Li demanded compensation for her ticket of 102.5 yuan ($13), 3,000 yuan for her legal expenses and 1 yuan as compensation for her mental suffering from smokers on the train.
She also requested the court to order the railway bureau to demolish its smoking areas and remove ashtrays on the train.
The court ruled in favor of Li on Monday on her main complaint. Its verdict said the railway bureau "violated a passenger transport regulation in which train operators are required to provide a traveling environment for passengers that ensures transport safety".
However, Li did not prove that she was harmed by the smoking, "so the bureau doesn't need to pay the compensation", the court said.
Li did not appear in court on Monday. Her lawyer, Zhong Lan'an, said he was satisfied with the ruling, "as my client's major request that there should be no smoking on the train was supported".
Jiang Yuan, deputy director of the Chinese Association on Tobacco Control, applauded the ruling, taking it as a good beginning to prohibit smoking on ordinary trains.
In China, smoking is prohibited on high-speed trains, but not on ordinary trains.
"The case can be considered the country's first lawsuit in which an ordinary train was ordered to prohibit smoking," Jiang said, adding that the decision would help contribute to smoking control in other public places.