If your campaign is going nowhere, simply inject a bit of populist EU bashing. It's a recipe that has become a favorite among politicians across Europe -- and one that Social Democrat Peer Steinbrück made use of at a Monday appearance. In doing so, he let slip that Germany's revered ex-Chancellor Helmut Schmidt is hoarding 200 cartons of menthol cigarettes to get around an impending ban on the minty cancer sticks.
Steinbrück was lamenting EU overreach and speaking about a Brussels plan to ban cigarette flavorings including fruits, chocolate or, Schmidt's favorite, menthol. EU health ministers agreed to the prohibition in June, though it has not yet gone into effect. The SPD chancellor candidate, who is trailing far behind Chancellor Angela Merkel in the polls, used the anecdote to attack the "intolerable penchant for regulation" displayed by the EU.
"The European Commission has to be dissuaded from regulating every little detail," Steinbrück said in a speech before business leaders in Karlsruhe. He himself admitted to having hoarded hundreds of specialized French light bulbs in his basement "because I don't know if I will be able to still get them in five years for my French lamps."
Schmidt, who was chancellor from 1974 to 1982, is famous for his smoking habit. Indeed, the 94-year-old Social Democrat is still hardly ever seen without a cigarette dangling from his lips, and is even allowed to smoke where others are not -- inside the SPD headquarters, for example, or even in television studios, where he still makes frequent appearances.
If Steinbrück's claim is correct, it would mean that Schmidt has stored away some 38,000 cigarettes, according to a calculation performed by the Hamburger Morgenpost. That would mean that, if he smoked a pack a day, he would have enough to last until his 100th birthday.