Old Habits Die Hard Ex-Chancellor under Investigation for Violating Smoking Ban

Former German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt's famous fondness for tobacco has got him into trouble. The former leader lit up at a theater in Hamburg -- after the city introduced a smoking ban. Now an anti-smoking group has reported them to the police.

Helmut Schmidt, former German chancellor, former minister of defense and co-publisher of the influential weekly newspaper Die Zeit, is being accused of breaking the law -- for violating Germany's new ban on smoking in public places.

Committed smokers Helmut Schmidt and his wife Loki -- aged a lung-cancer-defying 89 and 88, respectively -- are being investigated by Hamburg public prosecutors under suspicion of breaking the smoking ban and endangering public health, the mass-circulation daily Bild reported Friday. The complaint was brought by the Wiesbaden Non-Smokers Initiative, an anti-smoking organization based in the town of Wiesbaden, near Frankfurt.

It all started at a New Year reception at the famous Hamburg theater Komödie Winterhuder Fährhaus on Jan. 6, where the Schmidts were the guests of honor. A member of staff, knowing the couple's fondness for tobacco, placed an ashtray at their table, and the Schmidt's lit up.

There was only one problem: Smoking in public buildings had been banned in Hamburg since Jan. 1.

The Wiesbaden Non-Smokers Initiative saw a photo of the couple smoking in Bild and reported the offense to the police. "We're now looking into the case," Rüdiger Bagger, spokesman for the Hamburg public prosecutor, told Bild on Friday. The anti-smoking activists also reported the manager of the theater, Michael Lang, for permitting the heathen act to transpire.

Although breaking the smoking ban only counts as a minor ordinance violation, with offenders facing a small fine, the couple could aso be charged with causing bodily harm to others -- in which case they could theoretically face up to five years in prison.

The Great German Smoke-Out

At the start of 2008, eight of Germany's 16 states introduced a partial ban on smoking in restaurants and bars, joining three other states that had already implemented the ban.

The ban is seen by many smokers as an invasion of personal liberty, and many establishments are finding creative ways to get around the new regulations.

Many smokers remain defiant -- like an unrepentant Loki Schmidt. "I've been smoking since I was 10," she told Bild. "I won't stop."



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