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Germany marks five years of smoking ban

Throughout Germany, smoking is banned in public buildings, on public transportation and other places. But you can still have a puff in some bars. Some see Bavaria's stricter rules as an example for the rest Germany.

Smoking has been banned at Munich's Oktoberfest, the biggest folk festival in the world, since 2011, though at first the restriction was introduced on a voluntary basis.

"We were truly surprised it was already in effect by 2011," Oktoberfest spokesman Toni Roiderer told DW. Guests visiting the festival from abroad learned of the smoking ban from posters and received it well.

"In Singapore, no one spits on the floor, because they know they will be jailed," explained Roiderer. By comparison, he added, obstinate smokers at Oktoberfest are simply led out of the festival's trademark tents. Roiderer said the smoking ban has hurt neither the mood nor the number of visitors at the event.

Where can smokers go outside?

Many politicians argue that if a smoking ban can work at the Oktoberfest, it can work anywhere. Indeed, Germany has had a ban on smoking in public buildings and transportation for five years. The ban also applies to government agencies, courts, buses, trains and airplanes.

Photo illustration of second-hand smoke (Photo: Fotolia/Kitty)

The dangers of second-hand smoke are well-documented

But since smoking bans are decided at state level, restaurants and other establishments have widely varying regulations across Germany. They depend on whether an establishment is bigger than 75 square meters, if the owner and his or her family live there, whether the food is packaged or freshly cooked, and if minors are allowed in.

There are many exceptions where guests don't have to make for the door to smoke. In the state of North Rhine-Westphalia, smoking still goes on in some public tents. People can also smoke in many small bars - so-called smoker clubs - on special occasions or during the region's annual carnival. But the state government wants to change things. Following the Bavarian model, it wants to remove all exceptions and introduce fines of up to 2,500 euros ($3,100).

Tobacco lobby and popular support

Social Democrat Lothar Binding, who initiated Germany's nationwide smoking restrictions, suggested a solution that follows the Bavarian example in a DW interview.

German parliamentarian Lothar Binding(Photo (c) dpa)

Binding is pushing for more stringent anti-smoking measures

"You cannot tell a young person in Mannheim that smoking is forbidden because it endangers health, while it is allowed a few miles away in Ludwigshafen - or vice versa," he said.

Binding reported that the tobacco lobby has always sought to push public opinion against a smoking ban. The lobby also tries to sway politicians with visits, gifts, invitations and awards.

Nine out of 10 with lung cancer smoke

Binding started his campaign for an anti-smoking law because he was concerned by the health hazards of smoking and second-hand smoke. His efforts earned him angry letters from smokers, brewery representatives, restaurants and other establishments.

Yet Binding said the smoking ban has been effective, with fewer 12- to 17-year-olds smoking every year. He added that three out of four Germans - even including smokers - are now in favor of a smoking ban.

Moreover, Binding said, many Germans are aware that nine out of 10 lung cancer patients were smokers, or that smoking is statistically "a sign of poverty and bad education." He added that the Bavarian referendum against smoking showed how attitudes toward the habit have changed.

Graphic showing smoking bans in the European Union

Most EU countries have some form of smoking ban

The demise of the catering industry?

Still, a number of restaurateurs remain skeptical. Roiderer, who doesn't smoke, is much more critical of a smoking ban for some establishments than for the Oktoberfest. He said guests don't stay for long and revenues decrease.

"I only ask that politicians not spin things to force a smoking ban in beer gardens," Roiderer said. "That would be the demise of the catering industry."

But Roiderer admits some good would come if people were no longer allowed to smoke. Then they would have "money for food and drink, and that's not a bad thing."

Binding pointed to studies in Ireland and Italy that have shown revenues only decline for a short while after smoking bans are introduced. He said for other countries, it might be best if a comprehensive smoking ban were imposed by Brussels at a Europe-wide level.

"We used to say, 'Smoking outside is no problem in Italy, since it's warm there'," he said. But he pointed out that since then, people have discovered that a smoking ban functions very well in other countries, too.

Four years ago, a proprietor from Binding's constituency in Heidelberg complained that he would hold the politician responsible if he had to declare bankruptcy. But Binding said that since Germany's ban was introduced, the proprietor has not had to close one of his establishments.

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