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Tobacco's Fresh Face

Mathis Winkler
May 30, 2008

As the world marks No Tobacco Day on May 31, DW-WORLD.DE takes a look at Germany's cigarette industry, whose new head lobbyist wants to make her work transparent. A major tobacco player and critics aren't convinced.

Marianne Tritz, a policeman and several other people are standing next to a picture of a baby doll's head filled with cigarette butts
Tritz (center) will be confronted with posters like this one in the futureImage: DW

"Are the demonstrators there yet?" Marianne Tritz asks and almost seems eager to meet up with the other side. The executive director of the newly founded German Cigarette Association (DZV) has already had several run-ins with anti-tobacco activists, who were planning an early World No Tobacco Day demonstration in front of her office.

Tritz says that she's tried to engage protesters in conversations -- to no avail. She says that one activist usually dresses up as a cigarette and that she's unsuccessfully asked him to show her his face out of fairness and courtesy.

Fairness and courtesy are two key values that Tritz also wants to bring to her new job as spokeswoman for cigarette producers with a German market share of more than 60 percent.

With far-reaching smoking bans in place in Germany's federal states and the industry struggling with a negative image, Tritz wants to avoid the tobacco lobby's mistakes of the past -- submitting draft bills on anti-smoking legislation or funding scientific research on the effects of smoking.

"It's completely irrelevant whether passive smoking is more or less harmful," Tritz says. "There's a societal consensus that people should not be exposed to passive smoke and I have to accept that."

Watered-down approach

Photo of Marianne Tritz
Tritz says she quit smoking without any helpImage: picture-alliance/dpa

A heavy smoker herself until a few years ago, Tritz, who's now 44, says she quit because she no longer had the time to enjoy it. She calls herself a "tolerant non-smoker" and says that she's not bothered when people smoke next to her in restaurants.

While DZV employees are allowed to smoke in their offices -- and some clearly do -- Tritz rarely lets people light up in hers. The only addictive substances she offers to most visitors are coffee and donuts. Even less would do, as far as she's concerned.

"I'd much rather sit down with parliamentarians over a bottle of water than put on a show," she says. "We want to talk with politicians and represent our interests. It's our role to deliver arguments. It's the role of politicians to make decisions."

Switching sides

Tritz should know what she's talking about. As a 21-year-old, she became the executive director of an anti-nuclear citizens group and joined the Greens. In 2002, she was elected to the German parliament and kept working for her party as a foreign policy expert after losing her mandate in 2005.

Her switch from Germany's anti-smoking party to the tobacco lobby in March raised some eyebrows and made even more headlines. Tritz says that the challenge to build up a lobbying organization of a major industry from scratch was too good to reject.

To do so, she's hired an agency to help her develop a strategy.

"It'll be low key," she says. "We won't have ad campaigns. There will be events in a pleasant environment, but everything has to have substance."

Smuggled cigarettes, for example, are a concern that Tritz wants to focus on, since this is a major problem for the industry.

Cowboy tactics

People walk over a large no smoking sign
Philip Morris could live with a complete ban on cigarette adversitingImage: AP

That's something that people at Philip Morris can agree with, but that's as far as they will go. Germany's leading cigarette producer is not part of the DZV and the company's withdrawal led to the disbanding of the industry's previous association last year.

"We have differing opinions on important questions regarding the cigarette industry -- especially as far as the future is concerned," says Philip Morris spokeswoman Elfriede Buben. "We want clear and unambiguous regulations for the tobacco industry."

The company has no objections to tobacco advertising bans on billboards and in movie theaters, for example. It's also pushing for larger cigarette packs, saying that this would also contribute to preventing teenagers from smoking as the packs would cost more.

That's easy to say for the market leader, who is bound to benefit from an advertising ban while smaller firms will suffer, Tritz says.

"Philip Morris is lobbying aggressively," she says. "They're acting like cowboys. No one's going to believe them that they're promoting an advertising ban to protect teens."

Real role models

DZV members are already doing what they can to keep children and teenagers from smoking, Tritz added. They're not using role models such as athletes for commercials and have stopped passing out free promotional cigarette packs, for example. But they're against a complete ban on advertising -- after all, cigarettes are still a legal product.

"I don't think you can keep teens from smoking by banning the product from sight," says Tritz, who has two children. She adds that adults as responsible role models are much more effective.

"I'm really intolerant and get aggressive when I see people who smoke in their cars while kids are sitting in the back or who smoke while they're carrying their children in their arms," she says.

Wolf in sheep's clothing?

Johannes Spatz with a megaphone standing in front of a green sandbox filled with cigarette butts
Anti-smoking activist Spatz (right) doesn't think the revamp will change anythingImage: DW

That's probably a feeling shared by the anti-tobacco activists of Forum Smoke-Free that have now gathered in front of the DZV's building. They've brought along a green sandbox filled with cigarette butts collected on playgrounds.

But Johannes Spatz, who heads the group, says he's not hopeful for the new organization.

"This new sobriety, this reputed objectivity is a deception," he says. "It's still the tobacco industry. It's a wolf in sheep's clothing."

When Tritz shows up minutes later, Spatz refuses to let her speak to the crowd and helps to dump the cigarette butts in front of Tritz's feet. She tells the group that she thinks it's great that they've picked up the butts from playgrounds. She also says that she thinks it's irresponsible for them to drop their smelly load on the street. And then she realizes that talking with the other side might not be an option.

"I don't think that's possible," she says after Spatz and his co-demonstrators have left again. "They don't want to talk at all."

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