The passing of the deadline to implement a European directive banning tobacco advertising has rekindled the debate on the issue in Germany. Brussels required EU member states to pass national legislation by the end of July that prohibits advertising for tobacco products in the print and broadcast media as well as the Internet. However, in Germany the prohibition appears far from becoming law.
On Monday, the head of the parliamentary committee for consumer protection, Hertha Däubler-Gmelin (photo), from the ruling Social Democrats (SPD) criticized the Christian Democratic opposition party (CDU) for threatening to vote against a government initiative to implement the directive in the Bundesrat -- the upper house representing the interests of the federal states.
The Social Democratic-led federal government had originally presented the law in mid-May. But, on July 8, the CDU-dominated Bundesrat issued a statement rejecting the proposed advertising ban. Opposition to the proposal from the Bundesrat could theoretically be overruled by the lower house of parliament, the Bundestag, though that cannot happen until the reconstituted body convenes after the general election on Sept. 18.
EU-directive interferes with national legislation
Former Justice Minister Däubler-Gmelin charged that the "blockade politics in the Bundesrat" by the CDU and its sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU), undermines the protection of non-smokers. She suggested that in sticking to their opposition to the law the Union parties yield to pressure from lobby groups and business.
The CDU defended their stance, saying that legislation on health issues is exclusively within the jurisdiction of the EU-member states. While in favor of strenghtening measures to protect non-smokers, "the issue has to be decided on in Germany alone," the head of the CDU group in the European Parliament, Hartmut Nassauer, said on Monday.
Legal action against Brussels
Meanwhile, the government has filed a suit against the directive at the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg on purely legal grounds, Däubler-Gmelin said. While supporting a ban on tobacco advertising in principle, any health-related legislation -- including an advertising ban -- remains within the jurisdiction of the individual member states, she added, echoing statements by the CDU.
For similar reasons Germany successfully sued against a previous directive banning tobacco advertising in 2000. However, while legal action against the directive is under way, its implementation on the national level cannot be put off.
Advertising ban curbs smoking
The European Union agreed on the directive in May 2003 to cut down on smoking and its ill effects burdening the health budgets of its member states. An advertising ban "is one of the most effective means to reduce smoking," EU Health Commissioner Markos Kyprianou said.
Most member states have already turned the policy guideline from Brussels into national law. Some including Italy, Irland and Sweden, have gone even further and introduced a general ban on smoking in all public spaces. Lawmakers in France have proposed a similar law, while the Czech senate recently voted down legislation banning smoking in public buildings.