Sunday, 28 December 2008


For a country that prides itself so much on its thoroughness and meticulousness, Germany has a blind spot when it comes to laws on smoking in public places. After years and plenty of chances to get it right, resultant anti-smoking legislation is proving ineffective.

When the state of Baden-Württemberg pushed through a law on 1 August 2007 immediately restricting smoking in bars, there was an audible whining and gnashing of teeth among publicans. Instead of regarding the new legislation as a chance to welcome people who previously were maybe discouraged from going out more often, the general tenor was that this would sound the death knell for many pubs and bars across the land. Admittedly, I can sympathise to a certain extent with owners of small Eckkneipen whose livings depend on clientele who enjoy a Pils and a cigarette and whose bars are too small to apply segregation between smokers and non-smokers. Following an amendment to the law in mid-2008 to allow bars with an area of 70m2 or less to operate as smokers' bars, these businesses are now allowed to continue as they were. However, all other bars must either be fully non-smoking or have clearly separated areas for smokers. Since there are no bars in Weil which fall into the "70m2" category, you would expect them all to apply the rule of law to the book. This is Germany, after all.


And I'll give you a couple of examples. After going on a walk on Boxing Day, my parents and I had a bite to eat in an establishment in Friedlingen. The restaurant in question had a smoker's and non-smoker's area. As none of us smoke, we entered the latter room. However, it soon became apparent that the smoking area wasn't properly segregated from our area. There was just a flimsy partition separating the two which remained open near the bar. Consequently, we didn't immediately smell the cigarette fumes being exhaled by the waitress and her friends opposite, but we did eventually inhale them. What's more, in order to access the toilets, we non-smokers had to walk through the smoking area. What a joke. Like the proverbial fig leaf.

Anti-smoking legislation in other countries is meant to protect bar workers as much as clientele from cigarette fumes. However, a different rule of thumb applies here, as it seems most publicans and bar staff smoke themselves. Sure, that's an over-generalisation, but as an outsider, you do get the impression that many publicans here have their own vested interest in actively encouraging smoking in their establishments. Take a certain pub in Weil (I'm naming no names) where people smoke despite the fact that doing so is illegal. I used to frequent the place, but after seeing the husband and wife team who run the place both smoking in full view of their customers, I am loathe to return there. They might as well apply to run the pub as a "smokers' club" and have done with it, as far as I'm concerned. Happily, I have more important things to worry about than to grass them up to the police. I just boycott them instead.

Smoking was banned in pubs in England a few years back, and apart from a few lone crusaders who defied the law at the beginning, the transition to smoke-less pubs has been pretty smooth. So, if we can do it, why can't the Germans?

And why can't the Swiss either? The inhabitants of the canton of Basel-Stadt recently voted in favour of smoke-free pubs and restaurant, but the powerful publicans' lobby in Basel has managed to put back the date the new law will come into effect, meaning that pubs won't be totally smoke-free until 1 April 2010, instead of 1 January 2009. What a joke.

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