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Germany

Germany Mulls Way Forward for Smoking Ban After Court Ruling

German politicians are calling for a comprehensive, nationwide law against smoking on the heels of the recent ruling by the German Constitutional Court to partially overturn bans in several German states.

Wax mannequin holding unlit cigarette

The end of a brief non-smoking era?

After years of dragging its feet on implementing a smoking ban, Germany went smoke-free in bars and restaurants this year in a move that has both raised hackles and won praise. So last Wednesday's court ruling, which found that individual state laws allowing bars to set up separate smoking and non-smoking areas gave large multi-room pubs an advantage over smaller one-room pubs, was one that was met with fierce debate.

Renate Kuenast, the parliamentary co-leader of the opposition Green Party, criticized the federal government in comments on the Web site of German newsmagazine Der Spiegel on Sunday.

"It was an act of cowardice to leave protection of non-smokers up to the states," Kuenast said.

Germans in favor of federal rules

Shadow of a man sitting at bar

A rule reversal now allows smoking in one-room pubs

That's a sentiment that many Germans are echoing. In a survey by the Emnid Institute that was published in the Bild am Sonntag newspaper Sunday, some 81 percent of the respondents said they were in favor of the federal government setting rules on smoking in bars and restaurants instead of ceding responsibility to the states.

Even so, the Bild survey showed a lack of agreement as to what those rules should be. Some 20 percent of respondents opposed a ban while 56 percent supported a smoking ban with exceptions – such as for small corner pubs. Just 23 percent wanted all bars and restaurants to be smoke-free.

Still, Kuenast said that the Green Party would seek a nationwide ban on the basis of worker safety, which is regulated by the federal government.

As the laws stand now, each state has been able to devise its own regulations against smoking. In Bavaria, that means smokers get a reprieve during the state's annual Oktoberfest, when the beer tents synonymous with the festival become smoking zones.

Calls for consistency

Munich street lined with carnival rides and beer tents

Beer tents at Oktoberfest: still a smoking zone.

Roland Koch (CDU), premier of the German state of Hesse, said, however, that the states themselves could develop their own comprehensive smoking ban and he's promised to put that issue on the agenda of the next meeting of state premiers in Dresden in October.

"It is sensible for the states to reach as much of an amicable consensus on non-smoker protection as possible and to prevent a patchwork of regulations across the country," Koch said. "We should also agree not to turn this into a political debate."

Marlies Volkmer, the Social Democratic spokeswoman for the German parliament's committee for Nutrition, Agriculture and Consumer Protection, agreed.

"The state parliaments are now called upon to use their discretion in order to impose a general smoking ban," she said. "Only a consistent approach will truly serve health protection measures and would be completely clear for both pub owners and guests. We must get rid of Germany's patchwork of different rules regarding smoking."

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