Two major German employers' lobby groups called on Friday for workers to be banned from smoking cigarettes during work hours, saying it harmed productivity and cost firms money.
Mario Ohoven, president of the BVMW association of German medium-sized firms, told the Bild daily: "We've got to put an end to lighting up during work hours.
"Cigarette breaks cost firms money and disrupt the flow of the working day," added Ohoven, in an appeal that made the front page of Germany's most-read newspaper.
Another entrepreneur, Ursula Frerichs, from the UMW association of mid-sized businesses, said: "Additional breaks for smokers should be banned.Non-smokers should not be put at a disadvantage."
But the call ran into immediate opposition.
Such an initiative "would hardly contribute to a good atmosphere in companies," said Martina Perreng from the DGB trade union federation.
Karl Lauterbach, a Bundestag member with the centre-left Social Democratic Party, said, “A ban on smoking in short breaks outside the front door would be a massive discrimination – and a step towards a non-smoking dictatorship.”
This was even though, he told Bild, “I am in favour for strict non-smoker protection in the workplace.”
Around a quarter of Germans are smokers – about average for the European Union according to Eurostat figures – and the tobacco lobby has a strong influence in the country.
The last of Germany's 16 states made lighting up in bars and restaurants largely illegal in public places from July 2008, but the law was riddled with loopholes and many bar owners circumvent it.
Bundestag members from across the political spectrum said in May that they were working to introduce uniform anti-smoking laws that would close the loopholes and be applicable nationally.