The number of deaths from the use of illegal drugs in Germany has fallen to the lowest level in 15 years despite a growing number of youths trying cannabis and amphetamines in 2004, according to a government report.
Berlin fears gateway drugs will lead to more dangerous addictions
Berlin's official annual report unveiled on Wednesday painted a mixed picture of drug use in Germany. A total of 1,385 people died after injecting, smoking or sniffing drugs in 2004 compared with 1,477 in 2003, said Marion Caspers-Merk, the government's spokeswoman on drug policy.
However, Caspers-Merk said the consumption of cannabis among children was "alarming" with seven percent of 12 to 14-year-olds admitting to having tried the drug at least once. Marijuana and hashish consumption increased in 2004 and the use of party drugs like speed and ecstasy has also continued to climb.
She said the use of cannabis and other softer gateway drugs was worrying since they paved the way for addiction and experimentation with more dangerous hard drugs like heroin. Still, Caspers-Merk said the decreasing number of drug-related deaths showed the government's policies were working.
"We are on the right path," she said, pointing to successes in cutting the abuse of alcohol and tobacco.
The kids like alcopops.
The consumption of alcopops, the sweet alcoholic drinks aimed at younger consumers, had dropped among the under-18s, partly due to the introduction of a special tax on them in 2004 which pushed up their retail price.
"The wallet remains a good way to battle drugs and addiction," Caspers-Merk said.
Deaths from excessive smoking remain far in excess of those from soft and hard drugs, with 300 a day, amounting to around 120,000 a year. But the 12 to 17 age group was smoking less than several years ago, thanks to a new taxation policy which has pushed the price of a packet of 19 up to between 3.50 and four euros ($4.40 and $5.10.)
Cigarette sales in Germany fell by 15.8 percent to a total 111.7 billion cigarettes in 2004, largely as a result of the higher price of tobacco. The percentage of teenagers who smoked fell from 28 percent in 2001 to 20 percent last year. "Smoking is becoming less cool among minors," Caspers-Merk said.
Banning tobacco ads
The German government said on Wednesday it will ban tobacco advertising in the press, on the Internet and at sporting events in line with a European Union directive. Cigarette manufacturers will still be able to advertise on billboards and during cinema showings after 7:00 pm.
A parliamentary bill is expected to be adopted by the end of July, Consumer Affairs Minister Renate Künast said after a cabinet meeting. "This is something we must do, above all else to ensure that young people never take up smoking," she said.
Germany had been a long-time opponent of a ban on tobacco advertising and lodged an appeal with the European Court of Justice in 2003 against the EU directive, but is still waiting for a judgement.
Germany's federation of advertisers criticized the decision to press ahead with a ban, saying it would lead to a sharp fall in advertising revenue for media companies. The federation's spokesman, Volker Nickel, said there was concern that the EU was considering a similar ban on advertising alcoholic drinks.
"It raised the question of just how far the state will interfere with people's right to make their own decisions," Nickel told German broadcaster Bayerischer Rundfunk.