German states can ban smoking, but they can't allow for smoking in large restaurants while banning it in corner bars, Germany's Constitutional Court ruled on Wednesday.
Happy smokers' bar owners posted permit signs immediately after the ruling
The court upheld the constitutionality of smoking bans, but struck down the way they were being implemented in some German states. It is unfair for a smoking ban to apply to small, one-room bars and restaurants while allowing for smoking rooms in larger establishments, the judges ruled on Wednesday, July 30.
The court gave German states until Dec. 31, 2009 to re-write their laws to incorporate the judges' ruling. The states will either need to pass blanket smoking bans for all restaurants and bars, or will have to re-write laws to allow for smoking in corner bars.
The court said that until laws are changed, bars with only one room will be exempted.
Big bars have unfair advantage
The court said a complete ban would be constitutional
The three German restaurateurs who brought the case say that the new smoking ban makes it impossible for their small establishments to compete with larger bars and restaurants which can offer separate smoking rooms.
As of July 1, 2008, all German states have some type of smoking ban, although rules vary widely depending on the region.
Health concerns raised
Greens politician Baerbel Hoehn warned that allowing smoking in corner bars would, "break down protections for non-smokers and gastronomy employees all along the line," Hoehn told the Neuen Osnabruecker Zeitung.
Hoehn also remained critical of states which allow smoking rooms in larger bars, saying that they continued to be an odor and pollution nuisance. Hoehn pointed out that two of every three Germans say they want smoke-free restaurants.
The ban has been controversial among bar owners
Hoehn has said that a new law might need to be introduced to clarify the issue once and for all, Associated Press reported.
Munich doctor Friedrich Wiebel had predicted that the judges would uphold the smoking ban.
"The judges can't help but place the health interests of the public over the financial interests of the landlord," Wiebel told the Muenchener Merkur newspaper, noting that 3,300 people are killed each year from second-hand smoke.
"In countries that have a strict smoking ban, the number of heart attack patients has sunk 20 to 30 percent," said Wiebel, who heads a group of doctors looking at the issue of smoking and health.