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Germany

Smoking in Restaurants, Bars Becomes Illegal Across Germany

A smoking ban was extended to all 16 German states on Tuesday, July 1, making it illegal to light up in restaurants and bars and stubbing out the country's reputation as one of Europe's last bastions of smoking.

A little toy in the form of a cigarette smoking skeleton is seen outside a shop in the Aegean port city of Izmir, western Turkey

A bit too drastic but anti-smoking groups are trying all they can to get smokers to quit

Amid strong resistance and continuing legal hurdles to anti-tobacco laws, Germany finally joined a growing number of European countries on Tuesday to outlaw smoking in bars and restaurants.

The states of North-Rhine Westphalia and Thuringia became the last two regions to enact public smoking bans on July 1, all other states having done so piecemeal since late 2007.

Patchwork laws

Anti-tobacco legislation is decided by Germany's 16 individual state governments with the result that a bewildering patchwork of anti-smoking rules is in place across the country.

In Berlin, where a ban took effect on January 1, smokers were granted a six-month period of grace that expired on Tuesday and those who breach the ban now face fines of 1,000 euros ($1,575).

An ashtray full of cigarette butts

Some German states are imposing stiff fines for those who refuse to stub out

In the eastern state of Saxony, fines can run up to a whopping 5,000 euros but in the northern port of Hamburg and Thuringia, in eastern Germany, the highest penalty authorities can impose is 500 euros.

In the states of Saxony, Schleswig-Holstein and Rhineland-Palatinate, judges have temporarily lifted the smoking ban in single-room bars, provided the owners serve the drinks themselves.

Bavaria has toughest legislation

The new anti-tobacco laws have met with strong opposition and are being challenged in courts around the country, where nearly one in three adults smoke.

German restaurants and pubs have strongly resisted the bans, not only because of the potential loss of income but partly because of an earlier crackdown on smoking by Adolf Hitler's Nazi regime. The sensitivity of the issue has prompted authorities in most states to allow special rooms to be set up purely for smokers.

The toughest rules in Germany are in Bavaria, where no separate smoking sections will be allowed. Lighting up however may still be allowed at the state's famed Munich beer festival in October.

The German Constitutional Court last month began hearing three legal challenges to the new laws, including one from barkeepers and nightclub owners who say it interferes with their right to practise their profession.

The German cancer association, which claims 3,300 people die from passive smoking in Germany annually, said Tuesday the

extension of the ban to all states meant "people can breathe a sigh of relief."

But the country's biggest anti-tobacco lobby, Pro Rauchfrei, criticized that efforts to curb public smoking are in vain because of the absence of a single federal ban. They argued that the number of exemptions allowed by the courts have created too much confusion.

Dutch ban allows pure marijuana

The Netherlands too implemented a smoking ban in cafes, bars and restaurants on Tuesday. But the legislation has led to a bizarre situation in the country's famed coffee shops where smoking cannabis is permitted.

The new legislation allows patrons of licensed cannabis cafes to smoke marijuana as long as it is not mixed with tobacco.

Possession of cannabis is illegal in the Netherlands, but holders of small amounts are not prosecuted.

A coffee shop in Maastricht, Netherlands

In future, that joint will have to be sans tobacco

Dutch authorities say they plan strict monitoring of the smoking ban and offenders can be fined up to 2,400 euros.

Meanwhile, authorities in Britain say a strict smoking ban introduced a year ago in all restaurants, bars and public places has prompted at least 400,000 people to kick the habit.

A study by Britain's cancer association and various pharmaceutical companies showed the smoking ban could prevent the death of 40,000 people in the coming ten years.

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