“We have almost reached our goal on the verge of being able to live and let live in Bavaria,” VEBWK head Heinrich Kohlhuber told broadcaster Antenne Bayern on Thursday.
Bavaria's conservative Christian Social Union (CSU) is rumoured to be considering a relaxation of the law after the party lost its long-held absolute majority in recent state elections. Kohlhuber attributes the party's embarrassing show as a clear signal that voters disapprove of the smoking ban.
“Apparently the CSU wasn't listening to the people,” Kohlhuber said, adding that he hopes his organization can work together with the state government to create a new smoking law.
One solution, he said, would be allowing establishments small than 100 square metres to decide whether they wanted to allow smoking. Pub and restaurant owners could then display their smoking status with a sign at their entrance, Kohlhuber suggested.
The nationwide smoking ban was implemented on January 1, 2008 - though it was not enforced until July 1. Many German bar owners have openly flouted the law, complaining that it could threaten their livelihoods as revenues suffered. Several states have also reported half-hearted or non-existent enforcement by city officials.
On July 30, Germany's high court ruled that the new smoking ban in the states of Baden-Württemberg and Berlin was unconstitutional.
The decision involved a case brought by bar owners in Berlin and Tübingen, and a club owner in Heilbronn, who contended that small establishments should be exempt from the ban because they don't have the possibility to create a separate smoking area.
The decision from the Constitutional Court in Karlsruhe states that current smoking ban rules are to remain in effect until the end of 2009, when new legislation will have to be drawn up. But the six to two ruling said the ban was "an especially heavy burden" and "unacceptable" for small bars and infringes on the freedom to carry out one's profession because of the high proportion of smoking customers, the court said.
The ruling stated that bars allowed to let customers smoke again must be smaller than 75 square-metres and will have to visibly identify their business as a smoking establishment. Such bars will not be allowed to serve food and will have to deny entry to customers younger than 18-years-old.
Corner pubs that rely heavily on a drinking clientele and can prove "existential disadvantages" are also eligible for the exception to the law, the court said.
Other suits against the smoking ban await lower court rulings in several states, and judges in Saxony, Schleswig-Holstein and Rhineland-Palatinate have already nullified the law for single-room pubs if the owners themselves are serving drinks.