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Germans rebel against smoking ban

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14:58 CET+01:00
On New Years Eve, Germany, a country where about one third of the population smokes, ended an era of being a smokers' paradise. Germans, who otherwise have a reputation for being sticklers for rules, are showing a rebellious streak.

Eight of the 16 states have imposed at least a partial smoking ban. The republic was one of the last countries in Europe to allow smoking in restaurants and bars.

Berlin , Bavaria, Brandenburg, Bremen, Hamburg, Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, Saxony-Anhalt and Schleswig-Holstein joined Lower Saxony, Baden-Württemburg and Hessen in imposing at least a partial smoking ban.

February will see the next round of restrictions as Saxony, Saarland and Rhineland-Palatinate will impose their smoking restrictions. North Rhine-Westphalia will follow. Thuringia will be the last enclave for smokers, introducing its ban in July. How draconian the ban will be, and how strictly it will be enforced will vary from state to state. The federal government placed a smoking ban on public transport from Sept. 1st, 2007 throughout the entire country.

Bavaria is the strictest of the states, banning smoking in beer tents as well as bars and restaurants. Saarland and Saxony allow small corner pubs to set their own rules regarding smoking, provided that the owners have no employees. Berlin will wait six months before it starts enforcing the ban.

Around 71 percent of Germans agree with the smoking ban, according to a study published in the Sunday paper Bild am Sonntag. Half of smokers polled said that they agree with a smoking ban in bars and restaurants. Many of the 28 percent of Germans who disagree with the new ban are very adamant about their dissention and vocal as to why they oppose the new regulation.

Many Berliners are certainly poised to ostentatiously disobey the smoking ban. “We are a smoking pub and want to remain one,” Torsten Behrend, a Berlin bar owner, told Berlin daily, Berliner Morgenpost. Behrend said that 90 percent of his customers are smokers. “At most five nonsmokers come here per day. We can do without them,” he added. He said that the ban would cost him places for his guests.

“I will fight against this law. At any price,” Gerhardt Glöckner, a Berlin bar owner told Berlin daily the Berliner Zeitung. After midnight on New Years Eve, a banner saying “We are still smoking” flew over Rosa-Luxemburg-Straße in the Berlin district of Mitte. The street is a hub for trendy bars and night clubs.

The republic has long been a bastion for smokers and has fostered a deep rooted smoking culture. The ban is facing much resistance among both smokers' rights groups and the restaurant industry. The German Hotel and Restaurant Association (DEHOGA) says that 15 percent of the venues that adopted the measures in 2007 saw turnover fall by around 50 percent.

“The implementation of the smoking ban has functioned without any problems in most hotels and many restaurants,” Ingrid Hartges, managing director of DEHOGA, told the Frankfurt daily, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. However, one room establishments such as bars or pubs, where many guests smoke, have problems. “Many of our restaurateurs are angry about this (law) and fear for their existence,” added Hartges. Hartges explained that, for example, around 70% of core clientele of one room establishments in Thuringia are smokers.

On border regions, many German smokers are fleeing eastward to get their nicotine kick. “In Poland you can smoke a cigarette with beer or coffee,” Bernhard Sobanski, speaker for the Frankfurter Barkeepers, told the Berliner Morgenpost. Sobanski was speaking on behalf of barkeepers in Frankfurt an der Oder, a German city on the Polish border.

Some bar owner groups have even organized grass roots effort to find creative legal loopholes to the law or collect money to fund an appeal to the federal courts, alleging a breach of basic rights. Hamburg's Association for the Preservation of Smoke Culture and Advancement of Tolerance is an example of such a movement. The organization has turned its federation of bars into private member-owning smoker clubs. The Smokers Club, Inc reported that the owner of the Mouse Trap pub in Schleswig-Holstein has applied to turn his establishment into a church. “I consider the burning of tobacco to be a religious practice,” said Dirk Bruckner, who already has 400 followers.

Antismoking regulation has a sordid history in Germany, as Hitler tried to crack down on the habit. One smokers' rights group angered Jewish groups by selling T-shirts with yellow stars of David branded with the word ‘smoker' instead of ‘Jew.' Denis Kramer, who was listed as the group's contact person apologized, but the site said that the shirt was meant to highlight "disgraceful exclusion" of smokers by society. An online statement said, "After decades of tolerance, the smoker is being denounced as an outcast, a second-class human being."

Gerhard Grünberg, a 57 year old waiter at The Vienna club, a bar in southern Berlin, was the first reported victim of smoking-related 'bar rage' in Germany. He became a short-lived national icon after he was attacked by a man whom he asked not to smoke. He told journalists he politely asked the man to put out his cigarette, "but the man said I was taking away his rights, and then he threw the punch."

In a nation known for innovation, solutions to inconveniences imposed by the smoking ban are no exception. One invention has been smoking points, holes in the walls where smokers can stick their arms and head out in order to puff away while being officially. A loophole that allows smokers to light up in separate rooms has spurred the invention and mass production of no-smoker tunnels and mobile smoking rooms set to outfit German nightclub scene as summer – and stricter enforcement - approaches.

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