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June 27, 2006

Public smoking

There's a debate going on in Germany at the moment if smoking should be banned in all public places by law. This would also include bars and restaurants. So far, the government has relied on restaurant owners to voluntarily provide guests with non-smoking areas. But in view of 140,000 deaths a year from tobacco related illnesses - more than from traffic accidents, alcohol and drug abuse, and AIDS combined - the politicians are trying to take some more draconian measures after a first attempt failed eight years ago.

Of course, with tobacco there's a lot of money involved. So things are not as easy as they might seem. The tobacco industry tries to tell people that passive smoking is no more hazardous to your health than using a mobile. All I can say is that having someone smoking beside me in a room gives me a capital headache, burning eyes and a sore throat. I haven't been inside pubs for years, only in summer when you can sit outside, because of that The restaurant and hotel owners are apparently afraid that people will stay away from bars and pubs if smoking is banned inside. I would suggest that once you get the smokers taking their drinks and cigarettes outside you have a real chance of attracting the non-smokers inside! I really enjoyed the Scottish pubs during my Easter holiday this year with all the smokers having a quiet get-together outside and the non-smokers sitting inside in warm and clear air enjoying a pint and a meal. Locals had told us that before smoking was banned in pubs you couldn't see the hand before your eyes inside there and judging by the layers of smoke residues covering walls, ceiling and smoke detector we could readily believe them.

As the government gets quite a bit of revenues out of the heavily taxed tobacco an open confrontation with the tobacco industry is the last thing the politicians want. So they've had this ingenious thought of delegating the responsibility for banning smoking in restaurant and pubs to the federal states, which will undoubtedly result in 16 different solutions. You better watch out which state you are in if you are a smoker! The Federal Government will probably ban smoking in its ministry buildings and sell that as a big success!

Some federeal states have tentatively started to try banning smoking in schools. This should be a matter of course in my eyes! When I went to school there was a big discussion if smoking, which was forbidden inside the building, should be allowed in the school yard for teachers and pupils over 16. In the end there was a certain corner in the yard where the smokers could meet. What really annoyed me that there were some teachers who openly ignored the smoking ban inside the school building - so much for setting an example!

In the state where I live pupils are no longer allowed to smoke in the school yard, so they just leave the yard during breaks and smoke somewhere else. I don't feel that's a solution to the problem - as long as we cannot convince kids that smoking is neither 'cool' nor a sign of personal freedom, smokers will always find a place somewhere.

Robert Proctor, a Professor at Stanford University, has stated that one reason the German anti-smoking movement is so weak is the influence of the Nazi's hostility to smoking. During the Nazi regime smoking was barred in many workplaces, government offices, hospitals and rest homes. According to Professor Proctor the tobacco industry took advantage of that by successfully portraying the members of the anti-smoking movement as intolerant and fascist. And for the nicotine addicts smoking was a sign of personal freedom and a new way of living.

In my opinion that is probably taking things a bit far. One shouldn't forget that the body gets addicted to nicotine. I know that my father started smoking at the age of 16 or 17 because it killed the feeling of hunger during the war. His consumation of cigarettes gradually increased over the years and after several unsuccessful attempts of giving it up for good he eventually succeeded by sheer will power. By then he was a true chain smoker.

What annoys me most about this whole thing is duplicity. Everyone is welcome to ruin his or her own health by smoking. But in public places where non-smokers cannot escape being subjected to passive smoking politicians should not hesitate to put a ban on smoking just because they are afraid of losing voters or money from taxing tobacco. On the other hand they don't think anything of paying large amounts for the health care of people who suffer from tobacco related illnesses. And as examples from other European countries (Ireland, Italy etc.) have shown the public uproar was far less than had been expected.

Come on, politicians, be brave for once and go ahead!

Posted by Mausi at June 27, 2006 04:34 PM

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