Moving to protect non-smokers in Germany, the federal government and the country's association of hotels and restaurants have signed an agreement which obliges owners to create non-smoking sections for their customers.
Soon a more common sight in German restaurants and bars
The idea is to reserve at least half of the restaurant or hotel space for non-smokers with relevant sections to be created over the next three years. The agreement came about quickly, as it is a far better option for the hotel business rather than facing draconian anti-smoking measures in public spaces, such as those that have been implemented recently in Italy, Malta and Ireland.
The latter countries have already completely banned smoking in public places despite large-scale opposition. While tobacco-related diseases kill 650,000 EU citizens every year, a ban on smoking in public places has met with particularly fierce opposition in Germany.
Italians puffed their last cigarettes inside restaurants and bars at the beginning of the year
The government is aware of the fact that imposing a total ban on smoking for instance in hotels and restaurants is pretty well impossible. And so it has been banking on voluntary agreements with corporations profiting from the multi-billion-euro tobacco business.
Both sides are happy
It was a happy Marion Caspers-Merk, under-secretary in the federal health ministry, who announced that the influential association of hotel and restaurant owners had agreed to set up smoke-free sections for their customers.
German train stations have viturally banned smoking
"We have regulations for the workplace which guarantee each employee a smoke-free environment, if he or she so wishes," she said. "We also have strict laws meant to protect young people under the age of 16 from getting hold of tobacco too easily. And I’m glad that our anti-smoking campaign has now reached a new stage with the agreement that's been signed between the government and the German association of hotels and restaurants."
The association’s president, Ernst Fischer, has promised to implement the agreement as quickly as possible.
"People in our business don’t want to exclude anyone," he said. "We simply want both smokers and non-smokers to feel comfortable in our hotels and restaurants. And certainly we want to do our best to fulfill the wishes of our customers. But we don’t need a law to ensure this. If you look around, the spirit of the new agreement is already present in most of the bigger hotels and restaurants where there are bound to be non-smoking sections already in place. The agreement will make sure that this practice will expand to all of our hotels and restaurants."
Optional non-smoking rooms have become standard in Germany
Marc Scherr, press spokesman for the Accor hotel chain, insisted that customers should continue to have the choice whether they want to smoke or not. But his plea for individual freedom deliberately dodges health issues related to passive smoking.
"It is praiseworthy to do something for the health of the people, but it is not possible to do that to the disadvantage of our enterprises," he said, adding that restaurants lost a lot of business after the smoking ban went into effect in New York.
"We believe the smoking and the non-smoking can only be solved by market powers, because right now we already have a lot of restaurants in German offering non-smoking zones," Scherr added.
EU combats smoking
The German government sees the new agreement as conforming with a fresh anti-smoking campaign launched by the European Commission. The campaign will tour all 25 EU capital cities until 2008 and will be coupled with anti-smoking TV ads.
The EU campaign comes two days after the WHO’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control went into force. The treaty which was also signed by Germany imposes a ban on tobacco company advertising as well as introducing international standards on labeling, pricing and taxes.