Germany Copies America, Restricts Indoor Smoking

As a non-smoker for going on four months now, I’m pleased to see that the Grand Coalition running Germany has agreed on a smoking ban for almost all public places:

Smoking in smoking in theatres, cinemas, hospitals and schools will be banned in a drive to toughen some of the most lax smoking rules in western Europe. It will also be banned in all forms of public transport.

Health Minister Ulla Schmidt called the compromise a step in the right direction. "This is an enormous advance for the protection of non-smokers and for health protection in Germany," she said, adding that she hoped the coalition parties’ broader parliamentary groups would accept the deal.

Nearly a third of all German adults smoke regularly and close to 140,000 die every year from tobacco-related illnesses — far more than from traffic accidents, alcohol, drugs and AIDS combined.

The ban doesn’t apply to bars and pubs, and apparently restaurants will be allowed to maintain separate smoking areas. I don’t have a problem with somebody smoking in my presence, so long as there’s a little air circulation. But ay, there’s the rub: in Germany, "a little air circulation" is called a "draft," and, to quote Spiegel English: "A lot of Germans don’t like drafts. Some even seem to have an irrational fear of moving air, believing it can cause pneumonia, flu, colds, clogged arteries and just about every malady imaginable." Thus, go into an average bar here during the winter and you’ll see visible, choking clouds of second-hand smoke that have been resting in the motionless air for hours (if not years). Sometimes I have to wash my clothes twice to get the stinging, acrid tang of used tobacco out of them.

So, as far as this goes, it’s probably a good idea, and I congratulate the Grosse Koalition.

But now, if you don’t mind, I’d like to rant at German journalists for a few short moments. One of the most tiresome stereotypes around is of those "puritanical" Americans who passed laws banning smoking in public places. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s — that is, before European governments began to ban indoor smoking themselves — lazy German journalists, on slow news days, ridiculed America every time some city or state in the U.S. moved to restrict smoking. As this Tagesspiegel article put it (G) two years ago, "for years, Europans mocked the American example. But now, the old continent is following the New World…in ever-faster steps." Now, of course, these journalists sometimes quoted the odd German doctor saying: "Hey, this is actually not such a bad idea." But that was rare; the snide putdowns, if placed end-to-end, would reach to Saturn and back.

Suddenly, it turns out that banning smoking in enclosed public spaces was not some ludicrous paroxysm of American puritanism, but rather a sensible policy that has saved thousands of lives and millions of dollars in medical expenses. Something Europe, perhaps, should have started doing decades ago. All this time, snide journalists did a disservice to their readers by treating the smoking ban as nothing more than an occasion to mock America, rather than explore potentially sound public-policy idea. (Especially for a country like Germany, which has to reform its health system every few years to keep it financially viable.)

Therefore, to every European journalist who trotted out this lazy cliché all these years: you condescending snobs are hereby invited to come to Düsseldorf and kiss my big fat American ass.

There, I’m glad I got that out of my system. Now it’s back to thoughtful commentary.

12 thoughts on “Germany Copies America, Restricts Indoor Smoking

  1. Holy shit! If this recent surge of Reason and Responsibility lasts any longer then we even might see mandatory nutritional information on food products sometime soon. Like, in 2012. Cause it’s not like fat and carbohydrates have anything to do with that other People’s Disease, obesity, noooo …..

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  2. European or American smugness aside, I think it’s a very bad idea to forbid smoking in private places like cafés and restaurants. A restaurant is a private property. Owners must be able to decide whether they want smokers or not. If they clearly indicate “this is a smoking place”, the customer is free to decide whether he wants to enter or not.

    And, after all, if smoking is such a bad thing, why not go all the way and completely forbid the sale of tobacco?

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  3. Do not forbid Tobacco.

    I think that many places should be “no smoking area”, but the restaurants, bars and cafés may have the right to choose if they will allow their clients to smoke: you have your business, you choose your target-consumer. Are those laws for all kind of smokeable tobacco? Beucase I´ve noticed that many places in Brazil still allow you to smoke a cigarette but ban the cigar smokers.

    BTW: four months, BiggAss? 😉

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  4. Right, restaurants are private property, but restaurants are also working places. It is the owner’s responsibility to protect his employees from toxic gases.
    At least, that is the only comprehensible justification I know for banning smoking in restaurants. Strange enough, you hardly ever this argumentation from politicians. They seem to think that it is necessary for restaurants to be comforting for non-smoking guests. But why should they?

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  5. True, but the workers are also responsible for themselves. If it was made mandatory for employers to tell their employees upfront that this workplace is a smoking place, the employee could then decide for himself whether or not to start working there.

    The same goes for private theaters, cinemas, bars, etc. The rule of thumb for a smoke ban should be: public space ban OK, private space ban not OK (let the proprietor/manager decide).

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  6. Exciting news! I now hope I’ll be able to enjoy a year of studying in Germany rather than investing in a gas mask or living like a hermit.

    It’s funny to see this debate played out again. They’ve slowly tightened anti-smoking regulations where I live over the last decade or so, and I remember when they first started introducing stricter measures. Oh, the uproar! What about our rights!? Sure, waitresses are getting lung cancer and other patrons have to breathe this shit, but I don’t like walking four feet to the door! What about our profits!? Bars will be deserted! Restaurants will close!

    Of course every time regulations changed people got used to it in a few months and we still have as many thriving bars and restaurants as ever. They recently strengthened the law again and as of five days ago smoking is now completely banned from pretty much every enclosed public space, including all bars and even restaurant terraces. This time? Barely a peep.

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  7. @ Jones:
    That’s the way totalitarianism worked in the past and continues to work. People just care less and less for restrictions they’re put under. But it’s good to see this piece of crap law seems to have gotten quicksanded in the depths of German federalism.

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  8. Junger Gott:
    Or maybe it’s just the nature of people to feel threatened by change, and when they realize that something isn’t actually that big a deal, and can actually be a change for the better, then their attitude changes too.

    I mean, to take things to extremes, you could say much the same about laws banning slavery – after all, there was a lot of initial opposition to those, and they infringed on the “rights” of some property owners, but in the end I think we all agree that change was for the best.

    I just find it very strange that with all of Germany’s other laws aimed at upholding the public good (that would have a lot of “freedom” lovin’ Americans screaming in abject horror of over-regulation), public smoking seems to be held up as some sort of sacred cow of “liberty”. It seems extremely incongruous.

    As for totalitarianism, smoking regulations are actually enacted largely on a provincial/municipal level here due to our political structure, and trust me when I say that my little city isn’t exactly likely to turn into Singapore, let alone anything worse, anytime soon.

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  9. smoking is unhealthy, annoying and pure shit. yes, sure all the losers will yell “that is my right, etc.” it isnt your right you fat, unhealthy germans, so get over it or get out.

    if cigarettes were to come to the market today, they would never be allowed to be produced. FACT.

    actually the first country to ever outlaw was canada…the USA has not outlawed smoking…only a few states have – not nationally.

    one thing is for certain, the first part of the article title: “Germany copies America”…should really be “Germany wants to be America”…now you see where all the jealousy comes from.

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  10. and the total morons and idiots who think Restaurants and Bars are private property and they can do what they want are just totally asinine. No they cant. Can they cut corners on price and water their alcohol down? No, they will be closed. Can they stop getting meat and replace it with sewer rats? No, they will be closed. Can they have a staff member dealing cocaine and x? No, they will be closed. Can they make their staff work odd hours, overtime and take a portion of their tips? No, they will be closed.

    When the government passes legistlation (health board, community ordinences, etc.) business have to comply or suffer the consequences.

    Please get your head together and stop thinking so simplistic.

    Just stop being a loser and stop smoking…you are laughed at.

    I wont hire a smoker, although our business have nothing to do with it…i will just make sure no smokers work here (in Germany)…so there arent 2 hours of smoke breaks a day. Screw em…and there is nothing anyone can do about it.

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