Some smokers in Germany will be able to flout the smoking ban without fear of prosecution.
This applies especially to parts of Germany's capital Berlin: Smokers there are able to break the law without any fear of having to cough up a large fine, if they are caught. In theory anyone caught flouting the smoking ban in the capital now faces a fine of up to 100 ($158), but in reality the city has far too few officers to effectively police the new law.
Heinz Buschkowsky, the mayor of the city's gritty Neukölln district, said officers in his area were unable to enforce the new legislation at the moment. "We don't have the capacity to send out officers to patrol the smoking ban," he told the public radio station RadioEins on Wednesday. To police the ban Neukölln's local authority has been promised eight new officers. However, so far, not a single one had been employed, Buschkowsky said.
Across Berlin, several other districts face similar problems. The local authority in charge of the district Mitte, which covers Berlin's city center, also announced it would not carry out any spot checks -- at least for the time being. "We have 3,200 bars, pubs and restaurants in our area, we simply don't know where our controls should start or finish," Joachim Zeller, a city official responsible for policing the ban in the neighborhood, told the radio station on Monday. He added his officers would only follow up tip-offs to the local office of public order ("Ordnungsamt") or reported to a special telephone number (Berlin, 030/9028-1729) on businesses flouting the ban.
To help police the ban, the Berlin state government last autumn promised local authorities -- which are responsible for enforcing the new law -- 88 new officers. So far, only half that number have been employed.
Katrin Lompscher, Berlin's top elected official for health issues, told the German news agency DPA on Monday that 30 new officers were currently being trained and would be ready to carry out their work in two to three months. According to Lompscher, there was, in fact, no need to carry out extensive patrols, as the smoking ban had been widely accepted in Berlin.
The Berlin smoking ban has been in force since January 1. Until July 1 the city operated a grace period, but anyone caught now lighting up in a pub, restaurant or bar, which does not have a separate smoking room, faces a fine of up to 100 ($158). Landlords who flout the law will have to pay up to 1,000 ($1,580).
Yet, not all districts in Berlin are so poorly prepared: The western districts of Charlottenburg-Wilmersdorf and Spandau announced they will be sending out plain clothes officers on evening and night patrols.
As will the local authority in the district of Kreuzberg and Friedrichshain, an area with a lively nightlife. Marlies Meunier, the head of the district's enforcement authority, which has a three-man youth protection and smoking team, said they would carry out "regular" patrols, but not every day. She said their attention would at first be focused on investigating the 205 complaints they had received from members of the public since the start of the year. "Some pubs come up again and again," Meunier said.
The last states in Germany to introduce a smoking ban were North Rhine-Westphalia and Thuringia, which outlawed lighting up in pubs, bars and restaurants on Tuesday. The toughest smoking ban has been introduced in Bavaria, which forbids smoking in all drinking and eating establishments. In all other states smokers are only allowed to light up in dedicated smoking rooms, which must be separate from the rest of a restaurant, bar or pub. The smoking bans also cover public buildings, such as schools, airports and hospitals.