Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative bloc has dropped its longstanding opposition to curbs on tobacco advertising. Health advocates welcome the breakthrough, warning Germany needs to do more to protect young people.
Germany's Christian Democrats (CDU) and their Bavarian sister party, the CSU, have backed a plan to phase out tobacco advertising in outdoor areas from 2022.
The issue has long been a source of debate within the country's ruling conservative bloc, which had struggled to arrive at a common position and had blocked previous efforts to introduce such a ban.
A policy paper endorsed by the bloc's parliamentary group on Tuesday said the move was necessary to confront "the biggest avoidable health risk of our time."
The document also pointed out that Germany is the only country in the European Union to still allow advertising in public spaces. The paper proposes that tobacco ads on outdoor posters and billboards be curbed from January 1, 2022. It also calls for a ban on cigarette advertising in cinemas from 2021, on tobacco heating or burning product ads from 2023, and on e-cigarette advertising from 2024.
In Germany, around 120,000 people die annually from smoking-related causes. For years, health advocates have been calling for politicians to target tobacco advertising.
Klaus Reinhardt, the head of the German Medical Association, welcomed the CDU/CSU decision, saying it was "high time we protected young people from picking up smoking and the serious health risks associated with it."
A recent study showed that while fewer Germans smoke cigarettes, e-cigarettes are becoming far more popular, especially among young people.
Bill expected soon
Dirk Heidenblut of the center-left Social Democrats (SPD) — which have long supported ad bans — said the goal was to put forward legislation "as soon as possible to comprehensively ban outdoor advertising for tobacco products."
Frank Sitta of the business-friendly Free Democrats (FDP) criticized the measures as "patronizing, symbolic actions with bad side effects." He pointed out that the number of underage smokers had decreased, and warned that a complete advertising ban would make it difficult for "low risk innovators" to enter the market.
The environmentalist Greens, on the other hand, said the proposed changes didn't go far enough, arguing that, given the popularity of vaping, a ban on e-cigarette advertising should be introduced far earlier than 2023.
Tobacco advertising is already banned in magazines, newspapers and on TV and radio in Germany. With the proposed bans in place in the future, advertising will still be allowed in other areas, such as inside tobacco shops, or at national sporting events.
nm/dr (Reuters, AFP, dpa)