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More German teens smoke, after years of decline

December 30, 2022

A recent study shows an uptick in the number of young Germans who smoke, reversing a previous trend. But how does Germany compare with other EU countries?

Three teenage boys smoking
The COVID pandemic may be one factor in the rise of teenage smoking rates in GermanyImage: Shotshop/IMAGO

German teenagers have been increasingly smoking cigarettes and e-cigarettes throughout 2022, according to a recent study.

The German Survey on Smoking Behavior (DEBRA), which has been monitoring tobacco use in the country since 2016, found that the number of smokers between 14 to 17 years of age has almost doubled from 8.7% in 2021 to 15.9% in 2022. This is an unprecedented surge, the survey reports, highlighting a sharp rise in the consumption of e-cigarettes among adolescents.

Germany had seen a fall in the prevalence of teenage tobacco use throughout the decade. In 2014, approximately 20% of teenagers aged between 15 and 17 reported having smoked at least once in the past 30 days, according to data from the Federal Center for Health Education (BZgA). This number fell to 14% in 2017 and 11% in 2019.

Daniel Kotz, head of the DEBRA research team, told Der Spiegel magazine that the reason for this setback might be related to the widespread anxiety caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, its direct and indirect consequences, and the war in Ukraine.

In Europe, tobacco consumption among teenagers has been declining in recent years, official data published by the EU shows. But the numbers and trends vary from one member state to another. Here is a look at the countries with the least and most teenage smokers:


Smoking is a top public health concern in Bulgaria, as it's relatively high among all age groups. In 2019, roughly one out of three 13 to15-year-olds in Bulgaria reported that they currently smoke regular or electronic cigarettes, WHO data shows. This rate is one of the highest in Europe and stands much higher than the global average in the same year, which was 10%.

The government has tried to reduce tobacco use by implementing smoking bans in public places and imposing taxes on tobacco products. 

Still, Bulgaria remains one of the EU members that is cheapest for tobacco, with an average price of €2.77 ($2.97) for each pack of 20 cigarettes.

Greece and Romania have also reported high rates of teenage smoking, with 26% of 13-15 year-olds consuming tobacco in Greece and 25% in Romania, according to WHOdata from 2019.

How to kick the tobacco habit


In 2010, Finland became the world's first country to introduce a "tobacco endgame goal" in its national legislation. However, the country has been following a plan to achieve a smoking-free society since the 1970s, when it kicked off a long-term strategy to restrict the production, trade, and consumption of tobacco products.

Some of the newest restrictions, enacted in 2022, include the prohibition of smoking around playgrounds, public beaches in summer, and the outdoor areas of institutions providing welfare services to people under 18 years of age, such as schools and children's hospitals.

As a result, Finish teenagers smoke less than their peers in the rest of Europe. In 2021,the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare announced that only 4%of girls and 6% of boys, aged from 14 to 20, smoked, a significant drop compared to 2011, when the figures stood at 17% for girls and 14% for boys. 


Like Germany, France has also been showing a decline in the number of teenage smokers until 2021. 

According to a WHO study, the percentage of French teens currently smoking went from 13.6% in 2018 to 10.2% in 2021, however, the use of e-cigarettes remained unchanged.

France has the second-highest tobacco price in Europe after Ireland — an average of €10.2 ($10.97) per packet.

Apart from increasing the risk for countless physical health hazards, smoking can have a negative impact on the mental development of teenagers. Studies have shown that it not only reduces athletic performance, it can cause impaired cognitive function too.

The global consumption of tobacco products has been decreasing in recent years, according to WHO, particularly in high-income countries. But it remains relatively more prevalent in low- and middle-income countries.

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Edited by: Nicole Goebel