A series of anti-smoking measures have initiated a sea change in smoking attitudes in Germany. But much more work is to be done, and companies are starting to take matters into their own hands.
Smoking: One more reason not to hire someone
In addition to the typical job application questions about previous work experience and education, managers at the Laserline digital printing company have included another: smoker or non-smoker?
If you are the former, then your chances at working for the Berlin-based company are slim.
"A smoker needs to be very good in order to have a chance with us," Babett Deuse, the company's director told a local newspaper last week.
Smokers miss more work, take more breaks and generally lose more money for the company as a result, according to Laserline. Though the target of criticism by unions, the company's policy could gain currency in a country that has become eager to rid itself of its smoker-friendly image recently.
In the past three years, the German government has ratcheted up the price of a pack of cigarettes, instituted anti-smoking advertising and passed a law that gave greater protection to nonsmokers in the workplace. The measures have accompanied the beginnings of a sea change in German attitudes towards smoking, among the most benevolent in Europe according to a recent study.
"It's become cool at the moment, culturally," to be against smoking, a spokeswoman for the government's drug authority told DW-WORLD.
Harder to light up at work
Though Germany is far from following other European countries in banning smoking in bars and restaurants, the country's private sector has begun to implement anti-smoking
A no-smoking sign on a Deutsche Bahn door
measures with surprising commitment. A change in law two years ago that required companies to set up smoker's zones walled off from the rest of the workplace was seen as an important move against the dangerous effects of second-hand smoke. In Germany, one in every three people smoke at the office, according to a recent study.
"I think we've done a lot of good as far as (non-smoking measures) in the workplace," Michaela Goecke, who headed the study for the German Health Association, told DW-WORLD.
Of Germany's two million companies, most of the 5,000 major ones have begun adhering to the new anti-smoking law, Goecke said. But smaller and mid-sized companies, which don't have as high a profile and escape under the radar screen of health inspectors, still remain a problem.
"You need to give them a bit more time," she said.
But the measures alone were not enough to change the opinion of the European Network for Smoking Prevention (ENSP) in mid-October. In a survey of anti-smoking measures in 28 European countries, Germany ranked in the bottom 10. The country got particularly poor marks in the public and workplace smoking category, one of six categories including price and advertising bans that the ENSP used to judge countries.
Challenge: changing smoking's image
The problem, said Goecke, remains protection for non-smokers working in public buildings. Among the caveats in the new law is one that allows smokers working in public areas with a lot of traffic the right to light up.
Two men smoke in The Oval Bar in Dublin, Ireland
Smoking's image, as well, has not suffered as much as it has in the UK and America in recent years. The dangerous effects of second-hand smoke, long a topic of discussion in the US, remains in the background, despite the government's best efforts to bring it to the fore in recent years. As a result, many think Germany is a long way from following Ireland, Norway, Malta, and next year, Sweden, in implementing smoking bans in bars and restaurants.
Smoking is "still seen as a minor flaw here," Dieter Pienkny, the spokesman for the Berlin-Brandenburg branch of the German Trade Union Federation. "And it's too important a topic to be seen as such."
Unions are nevertheless against a policy such as the one in place at Laserline. Smoking cannot be lumped into the same category as previous arrests or amount of times fired when talking about whether to hire someone or not.
"It's a form of discrimination," Pienkny said. "You can talk about better protection for non-smokers at the office, but the question is not allowed beforehand."