A German man won $10,000 (€7,500) in an international non-smoking campaign. Advocates for a smoke-free Germany hope the prize will boost efforts for a national ban on smoking in public places.
Smoking is restricted in relatively few places in Germany
Karl-Heinz Evers was drawn from 700,000 participants worldwide in the "Quit and Win 2004" campaign sponsored by the World Health Organization (WHO). The 53-year-old from the northern town of Lübeck said he feels like he's been reborn six months after he ended a smoking career of almost three packs of cigarettes daily for the past 32 years. His pleasure has only been enhanced by the $10,000 prize he won.
"I feel brilliant," Evers said (photo, below). "After smoking 60 cigarettes a day for such a long time, you feel greatly relieved and much more active. I can ride my bicycle again and can do sports. I couldn’t do all that before because I was really sick."
The campaign participants were required to pledge to stop smoking for four weeks from May 1, 2004. Evers hasn't lit up since April 20.
Anti-smoking campaigners might complain about the fact that the prize has gone to Germany of all countries, which is widely regarded as a smokers' paradise with cheap cigarettes available from machines on street corners and very few restrictions on where to light up.
Changing its image
Karl-Heinz Evers (left) managed to quit smoking after 32 years.
But that image of Germany may no longer be accurate, seeing as no other country had more participants taking part in the WHO's anti-smoking campaign this year, organizers of "Quit and Win 2004" said. With over 90,000 would-be non-smokers, Germany topped the field, leaving Cuba's 81,000 and Russia’s 60,000 participants in places two and three. The campaign's organizers were optimistic that Germany's bad habits might be changing for the better.
"I'm quite convinced that this big success of Quit and Win, and, of course, the luck in the international draw will contribute to the tobacco policy development in Germany," Pekka Puska, chairman of the campaign and head of the Helsinki-based Public Health Institute of Finland, said.
"It is true that in Germany there is fairly big pressure from the tobacco industry. But I’m quite optimistic that these events and ultimately the support of people will lead to a positive development towards a smoke-free Germany and also regarding cooperation within the European Union," Puska said.
Cigarette tax benefits health
Recent statistics show that cigarette sales in Germany are beginning to drop. Some say this is a result of higher taxes imposed on cigarettes this year. The government intended to raise additional public revenues with the tax. But the result was primarily a positive health effect, according to Peter Lang from the government-affiliated agency of health education.
Youth smoking is still a problem in Germany, where even schools allow pupils and teachers to light up.
"The latest figures show a clear effect resulting from the tax hike," Lang said. "We can also say there is a marked reduction in tobacco consumption among 12 to 17-year-old youngsters. After a decade of rising consumption, we are seeing the first decline of consumption from 28 percent to 23 percent of young people in this age category."
Health experts say campaigns like "Quit and Win" or Germany’s national smoke-free campaign can raise awareness and encourage more people to stop smoking. With a success rate of 20 to 30 percent, they claim, the German national campaign alone has saved the lives of up to 60,000 people.