Tobacco Lobby Why Germany Remains a Smoker's Paradise

While much of the rest of Europe is cracking down on tobacco, Germany remains a smoker's paradise -- largely due to the successful lobbying efforts of the cigarette industry.


At first glance, the news from abroad couldn't have been worse for the German cigarette industry. In Ireland, where smoking was banned in pubs two-and-a-half years ago, Prime Minister Bertie Ahern said in mid-July: "Not a single pub has had to close its doors because of financial losses caused by the smoking ban." Indeed, the Irish hospitality sector has even experienced job growth since the ban came into effect.

Germany is still a good place for the tobacco industry.

Germany is still a good place for the tobacco industry.

In late September, Luke Clancy, a professor of medicine at the University of Dublin, presented for the first time figures on the health consequences of Ireland's smoking ban. According to Clancy's study, pub employees experienced "30 to 40 percent less shortness of breath, coughing and teary eyes" than before the ban.

The two annoucements came at an inopportune time for the tobacco lobby, especially after it had just vehemently warned against implementing smoking bans in Germany, which it claimed would be senseless overregulation costing many thousands of jobs.

This made it all the more astonishing when it was revealed last week that leading German politicians on the left and the right would not back comprehensive smoking bans in German bars and restaurants. In a textbook example of the art of lobbying, the cigarette industry has apparently done an excellent job since the debate over smoking bans took off this June. "A flat-out victory for the lobby, at the expense of the health of many people," complained Ulrike Höfken, a member of the Green Party and chairwoman of the German parliament's consumer protection committee, commenting on the governing coalition's caving in to the tobacco lobby. Social Democrat MP Lothar Binding said he had "expected more moral tenacity" from his fellow politicians. It was Binding who helped launch a group petition, signed by 140 members of Germany's parliament, the Bundestag, calling for a comprehensive smoking ban.

The cigarette industry has a penchant for inviting politicians to attend cozy discussion forums and sponsoring events on the Berlin political scene, using prominent guests like German TV talk show host Michel Friedman to add a touch of celebrity. When tobacco multinational British American Tobacco (BAT) inaugurated its new office last week on Berlin's grand Unter den Linden boulevard, the guests included influential members of the Bundestag from both the conservative Christian Democrats (CDU) and center-left Social Democrats (SPD).

It hardly seems surprising that last week's talks within the country's grand coalition CDU-SPD government revolved around draft legislation based on a position paper issued Sept. 13, 2006 by the German Cigarette Industry Association (VDC). Indeed, the politicians didn't even take the trouble to conceal the source of the document. The wording, organization and even the layout of the draft bill were practically identical to the VDC concept. The only item the parliamentarians added was one titled "Protection of Youth," under which the minimum age for the sale of cigarettes would be raised to 18 years.

Both the CDU and SPD are now pointing fingers at each other for having introduced the VDC documents into the negotiations. Whatever the outcome, one thing is certain: The VDC has prevailed once again, with Germany unlikely to see the kinds of smoking bans imposed in Ireland's pubs anytime soon.

Translated from German by Christopher Sultan


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