German state health official quits over lax smoking ban

A senior official in the North-Rhine Westphalian Health Ministry resigned on Monday over plans to loosen anti-smoking regulations, which the official said causes 700 deaths in the western German state each year.

German state health official quits over lax smoking ban
A pub with a new sign designating it a 'Smoker's Pub'. Photo: DPA

Stefan Winter’s resignation was submitted to the office of conservative state premier Jürgen Rüttgers, a government spokesman said, confirming a report by regional broadcaster WDR.

Winter is apparently reacting to recent statements by premier Rüttgers that he would not support a total smoking ban in North-Rhine Westphalia (NRW) and would instead propose legislation allowing smoking in smaller bars. The German Constitutional Court recently threw out existing anti-smoking legislation for two other German states because it placed an unfair burden on smaller bars and restaurants that couldn’t provide separate facilities for puffers.

According to the court, smoking is now allowed in bars designated as smoking bars with no more than 75 square metres. Anyone under 18 years old is not allowed to enter and no food may be served.

In his letter, Winter complained that two deaths per day were the result of passive smoking. That’s “700 innocent people per year that never even touched a cigarette,” WDR quoted Winter as saying.

Winter, 47, is a doctor and molecular biologist. He worked at the German Health Ministry from 1992 to 1998 before receiving a doctorate at Bonn University. He joined the NRW Health Ministry in July 2005.

The apparent catalyst for the resignation was an interview in Saturday’s Rheinische Post with Rüttgers: “We in NRW will use the exceptions that the Constitutional Court approved for Eck-Kneipen (small bars). The non-smoking laws will be changed.”

In the interview he rejected an outright ban in bars and restaurants in favour of his “pragmatic” changes.