Tuesday, August 08, 2006

A breath of fresh air

For as progressive, technologically advanced, Kyoto protocol-loving and organic food-conscious as Germans are, there is one area where they are stuck WAY back in the past... smoking! 37% of adult men and 28% of adult women smoke in Germany.

As I have not so diplomatically stated before, I am grossed out by this! Smoke is practically unavoidable here and is the one thing that all of my visitors (even a German who lives in the States) has complained about during their stay. I read today that only 30% of restaurants in Germany offer non-smoking sections. (And as my sister likes to say, a non-smoking section in a restaurant does about as much good as a non-peeing section in the pool!) Americans my age have all been through the DARE program in school (Drug Abuse Resistance Education.) We've seen the diseased lung, cancer plagued tounge, been told that kissing a smoker is like kissing an ash tray, etc... Unfortunately, one German I spoke with said there is no comparable program in German schools. What's more, German teens and teachers smoke between classes!

Anyway, to my great delight, a major debate is beginning here about raising the legal smoking age to 18 and banning or curbing smoking in public places. The German version of "Meet the Press" debated the issue on Sunday and there have been lots of articles in the papers. The chancellor has put her support behind the ban. She said she sees that other counties: France Britain, Italy, the Netherlands, and, and, and, are all still "free" despite the implementation of smoking bans in recent years.

Smokers and the tobacco lobby won't go down without a hard fight, to be sure. I once had a German intern tell me that smoking actually saves the government money because people die sooner, saving health insurance and retirement costs. He also flatly rejected the notion of second-hand smoke. My favorite argument during the debate show was that banning smoking in public places will only cause adults smoke more around their loved ones at home, so really how would a public ban aliviate second-hand smoke. Interestingly, the ban has come out of the consumer affairs ministry and not the health ministry. The health ministry has yet to comment.

It is my most sincere hope that by the time I return to Germany there will be nothing but fresh air to breathe! Come on Germany, try it, you know you want to!


At 2:40 AM, Blogger Erica said...

It's really similar here -- tons of teenagers smoke, and the "non-smoking" section of a restaurant, if there is one, is a couple of tables right next to the rest of the smoking ones. People at the UN
smoke like crazy, too.

When I first got here, they had just passed a law banning smoking in public places, but the tobacco companies sued and I think it was
repealed (although I'm not sure that the law had actually been promulgated correctly in the first place).

All the smoke is definitely something I won't miss about Nairobi!

At 8:56 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 3:44 AM, Blogger kelly said...

i say let them go home to smoke and poison their loved ones with second-hand smoke. Maybe their guilty conscience will kick in once their children start to get sick, whereas they probably wouldn't care (and wouldn't even know) if they were poisoning a stranger. what is this denial of the dangers of second-hand smoke anyway? and they make fun of some americans for denying global warming exists...

All I can say is I love my smoke-hating, screen-using German husband :-) Plus he can vote for the ban if it were to ever come to a referendum!! yoohoo!

At 7:51 AM, Blogger Erin said...

A German friend and I debated this issue last night. He's a non-smoker but argued that if the ban on smoking in public places passes, Germany will be legislating morality. Where does it end? He argued that a restaurant should have a choice whether or not it wants to be smoke-free.

I still think that is isn't legislating morality because smoking isn't being ban outright, it is just a matter of making public spaces healthy for the majority. Plus I feel that employers have a responsibility to provide a healthy working environment for waiters and waitresses. I wonder if anyone has ever done a study on the increased rate of cancer in servers who worked in a smokey environment every day.

A reporter on Morgen Magazin presented two more interesting (read: ridiculous) arguments against the ban:
1. if people are healthier, they will be a drain on the health and retirement systems because they will live longer.
2. the ban might work in Italy because the climate is warmer and people can dine outside for most of the year, whereas Germany is too cold in the winter for people to stand outside to "enjoy" their cigarettes.

At 8:13 PM, Anonymous smoke free for me said...

i think one of the only ways to implement this in germany is using the "germans need a healthy workplace" argument. i think many germans might also oppose the ban because they don't want more government "involvement" in their private lives - this was the arguement before madison approved a smoking ban in its restaurants and bars.
i mean, the government has apporved the use of alcohol, but it limits where it can be consumed (i assume you cannot openly consume alcohol on the job in germany). the government has approved the use of cigarettes, but it CAN limit where they can be consumed (ie: in the workplace).
but i see that this might be difficult since there were ashtrays put out in the WORKPLACE where the LAWS were duscussed (Kanzleramt).
anyway, there was an enlightening article in the economist about smoking and germany a few months back: http://www.economist.com/finance/displaystory.cfm?story_id=E1_GRGTRQR

At 12:39 AM, Blogger Erin said...

Now that's an interesting question... has Germany legislated whether alcohol can be consumed on the job? Part of me says no-- beer was on tap at the embassy and sekt was always on hand. It had been on tap at one of the places I worked this year, but apparently someone had a problem and it was removed. But I also somewhat doubt that BMW or Audi would be thrilled if its workers on the line had their thermoses filled with Hefeweizen.

It's interesting that you mention lawmakers smoking. I remember the last time this debate came up, the news stations were only too happy to show parliamentarians smoking right outside the main chamber of the Bundestag.

At 1:23 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I just saw a tv ad that said the entire Westin Hotel chain (at least in the US) is going smoke free. A good sign.


At 7:34 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's not quite the same thing, but there is an NPO called "Klasse 2000" (http://www.klasse2000.de), based in Nuernberg that is trying to educate kids about smoking and other health issues. It's still a grassroots effort, but something's better than nothing, right?!?

If you have some time to waste and are really curious about how Germany's stacks up against the rest of Europe in the great smoke-out, check out the WHO's Tobacco Initiative European report: http://www.euro.who.int/Document/E80607.pdf. I'm hoping things improve in Germany soon - and looking forward to going back to practically smoke-free Cali! :-)


Post a Comment

<< Home