Smoking Ban in Germany
Impossible to think of Germany without its curtain of tobacco. Marlene Dietrich in a smoke-free room? Ludwig Erhard without his cigar? For more than a century the sexiest actors and the sharpest brains were smokers; politicians stuffed and wadded their pipes in public to demonstrate they were Alpha-males. And now? A member of the fire brigade has to stand in a television studio if anyone even dares to reach for a box of matches. Actresses chew gum and politicians chew their nails. Perhaps that is progress.
Certainly Hitler would have been happy. One of the biggest surges of research into lung cancer came under the Nazis; he was a militant anti-smoker. “Everyone knew Hitler was dead in the bunker,” writes historian Norman Stone, “because one by one the orderlies and officers lit up their cigarettes that had previously been banned.” Lenin meanwhile seems to have pioneered the non-smoking train: he forced his fellow Bolsheviks to stub out their cigarettes when they travelled in the Sealed carriages from Switzerland to Russia to lead the revolution.
Well, you do not have to be a nasty dictator to want to ban smoking. Anyone who has spent time in a hospital waiting room knows that lung cancer is the most terrible disease; the haggard patients with their oxygen tanks draw pity even from other cancer victims. And there is no doubting – not even the powerful tobacco lobby does that any more – the connection between heavy smoking and cancer.
Legislating so strictly, so restrictively, against a majority to protect a small minority against largely imaginary risks is, dare I say it, very German. It is like not building the Transrapid to Hamburg because it might disrupt nesting behaviour, or diverting an autobahn construction because it interferes with the migration path of frogs.
I know, of course, that waitresses are not frogs. But they are humans who can make informed choices. And I know too that this legislation is not typically German – it is part of a European Union initiative. But the smokers of Britain, Ireland and many other countries have been looking to Germany to take a stand against the non-smoking culture. Cynics say that German governments have been traditionally weak-kneed towards the tobacco industry – too much government revenue is made through selling cigarettes, too many jobs are dependent on this lucrative business. I like to think though that the German government is genuinely concerned about freedom of choice, more so than other countries. It is this freedom that has to be protected. Trains have managed well enough with smoker and non-smoker compartments for decades. Now smoking is completely banned – choice has disappeared and non-smokers have not gained anything.
My point is this: anti-smoking legislation increasingly outlaws the smoker and restricts our life-style choices. But at the same time it gives to smoking a kind of underground glamour. For teenagers, smoking has never been more cool – they are defying not only parents and medical advice (boring!) but the state itself. And since most local councils cannot afford to hire smoking inspectors to patrol pubs and clubs, this act of rebellion carries no great legal risk. Suddenly every 17-year-old in Berlin seems to be a James Dean. And guess what? James Dean did not die of smoking.
is Germany correspondent for the London daily "Times". He has been living in Germany for 20 years and is author of the column "My Berlin" in the Tagesspiegel. In his book 'My dear Krauts' he describes the peculiarities of everyday life in Germany with typical British humour
Translation: Heike Cornelsen
Copyright: Goethe-Institut, Online-Redaktion
Any questions about this article? Please write to us!