If Berlin has its way, 40 percent of seats in German restaurants will be reserved for non-smokers. Marion Caspers-Merk, the federal government's drug commissioner, announced on Tuesday that the government is stepping up its anti-smoking campaign, hoping to get not only restaurants, but German hospitals to limit or eliminate smoking on their premises.
The government plans to meet with Germany's restaurant and hotel association to ask them to voluntarily enlarge the non-smoking areas in their establishments. Caspers-Merk said Germany is looking at Austria for its model and hopes to convince the hospitality sector to impose limits on smoking step by step.
"Non-smoking should be the norm in Germany," Caspers-Merk told reporters.
Trend toward not lighting up
There are signs that the trend is heading in that direction, particularly among young people. For the first time in years, the number of smokers between the ages of 12 and 17 has decreased. In 1997, 28 percent of this age group smoked; by 2004, that number had gone down to 23 percent. A current study carried out by the Federal Center for Health Education (BZgA) shows that 65 percent of 12- to 25-year-olds are non-smokers, up from 56 percent in 1979.
Caspers-Merk said part of the reason for the declining numbers of young smokers has to do with tobacco taxes which have been continually raised for several years, most recently on Dec. 1. Although, she acknowledged, some younger people are simply switching to cheaper brands or even cigarettes smuggled into the country illegally.
East still smoking
While she said smoking among young people was increasingly being seen as "uncool," she admitted that in eastern Germany, the number of youth taking up the habit continued to increase. For that reason, she wants to expand the smoking ban in German schools. Several states already have strict prohibitions against smoking on school grounds.
To encourage more people to stub out their cigarettes, the BZgA has begun offering a special "start packet" for those wanting to make their lives smoke free.
The director of the BZgA, Elisabeth Pott, complained that there is still too much "hidden" advertising of cigarettes, especially in films, where cool characters often light up. She said young people are especially susceptible to those kinds of messages.