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Cigarette Addicts

DW staff (nda)
September 17, 2008

Germany's Federal Medical Society is proposing that nicotine addiction be classified as an illness in a bid to help the country's smokers quit. Not everyone is behind the idea.

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
Smoking has already been demonized, now it's on the verge of being labeled a sicknessImage: AP

Germany's doctors have now joined the country's politicians, drug counselors and regional legislators in taking a stand against smoking.

While this shouldn't come as much of a surprise given the physical evidence that shows smoking is bad for a person's health, what is surprising is the Federal Medical Society has called for nicotine dependency to be classified as an illness.

The Federal Medical Society suggests that smokers who have a real dependency should be assessed for treatment by doctors in the same way as those suffering from physical ailments or complaints. If the smoker is then determined by the doctor to have an addiction, the appropriate recovery program should then be prescribed.

The idea behind the proposal is to increase the pressure on smokers by labeling them as sick and in need of medical help. It is also a way of getting smokers off the weed and on to the road to recovery by providing professional help.

Health insurers brace for increased claims

While it will be no shock to hear that the German Tobacco Federation is less than pleased by the proposal, the fact German health insurance companies are concerned could raise a few eyebrows.

Doctors attend to a patient in hospital
Health insurers fear a spike in smoking-related claimsImage: dpa

By classifyng smoking as an illness, some insurers say, more people will be claiming on their policies for smoking-related remedies and subsequent treatment by doctors. While many are happy to pay out for treatment arising from accidents or naturally occurring illnesses, some companies are less eager to offer remuneration for medical aid given to treat a self-inflicted addiction.

The consequent financial pressure on the health system and the insurance business could be huge, should the Federal Medical Society's proposal get approval this month.

Approximately 140,000 people die annually in Germany from smoking-related illnesses.