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HEALTH

‘Germany should raise smoking age to 21’

Calls were made this week for Berlin to follow New York state in raising the legal smoking age to 21. Johannes Spatz of anti-smoking campaign group Forum Rauchfrei told The Local why this will not be easy.

'Germany should raise smoking age to 21'
Photo: DPA

Berlin Christian Democrat (CDU) politician Cornelia Seibeld told regional newspaper the BZ this week that Germany should follow New York's lead and increase the minimum smoking age from 18 to 21.

“We need to curb nicotine addiction among young people” said Seibeld, citing figures showing that it was more common for German youngsters to be addicted to cigarettes than alcohol.

Raising the legal smoking age could help put a cap on this, as by the time they reach 21 people are “more aware of the health consequences of their behaviour,” she told the BZ.

Spatz agreed, and told The Local that Germany should indeed “look to New York for a positive role model” for dissuading young smokers. “If a person starts under the age of 21 they are more likely to become addicted,” he said, echoing Seibeld's argument.

The anti-smoking campaigner admitted that he knew that Germany was still a long way from stubbing out its love affair with tobacco. “The tobacco business has a stronghold in Germany as it's an industry-friendly country,” he said.

And as one of the world's leading exporters of cigarettes, Germany should first change what he described as the “cuddling up between the government and tobacco companies.” As it stands, the two are too close for change to be feasible, Spatz believes.

Yet even though Germany is still considered relatively smoke-tolerant within Europe, the past decade has seen the beginnings of change, with a ban on smoking in the workplace introduced in 2007 – which included most bars and restaurants.

Since then the country has seen 10 percent drop in strokes and heart attacks, according to research from the German Cancer Research Centre. But the ban is being implemented patchily, with different federal states imposing different rules, and many bars banning under-18s and declaring themselves havens for smokers.

“Go in a bar or disco, and it's horrible,” said Spatz.

The 2007 reform also raised the legal smoking age to 18 and since then the number of young smokers has, Spatz said, continued to drop. Banning smoking on school grounds also saw numbers pushed down and “There are studies which show clearly that it is no longer cool," he suggested.

“The number of young people smoking has dropped by 28 percent since 2001, basically because they can't” he said, adding that “over the past ten years the number of cigarettes being made per year has dropped from 150 billion to 80 billion.”

But the fact that Germany is one of only two countries in the EU – the other being Bulgaria – that still allows tobacco companies to advertise, is a problem that needs to be addressed alongside trying to push up the legal limit.

This “grouped measures” approach – both banning advertising and introducing a 21 age-limit – could be the key to de-normalising smoking, something that Spatz suggested “could change under the new coalition,” he said.

As for fears that more teenagers would smoke illegally – and buy counterfeit cigarettes from smugglers if they were banned from buying their smokes in the shops , Spatz dismissed the idea.

“This is a standard argument from tobacco companies,” he said. “There has been very little increase in illegal cigarette trade since the age limit was raised in 2007.”

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READ MORE: Germany bans Marlboro 'Maybe' ads

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HEALTH

Monkeypox in Germany: Two teens ‘among new infections’

Two teenage boys between the ages of 15-17 have reportedly been infected by monkeypox, as the number of cases in Germany continues to grow.

Monkeypox in Germany: Two teens 'among new infections'

German news site Spiegel Online first reported the new cases – which are an anomaly for a virus as it has mostly affected gay men – following an inquiry to the Robert Koch Institute (RKI). 

They are among a total of 2,677 people who are confirmed to have contracted the virus in Germany to date. There have not been any fatalities.

Out of these, only five cases were women, according to the RKI. The public health institute said that it does not release information on individual cases.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: How Germany wants to contain the monkeypox

The disease – which is not usually fatal – often manifests itself through fever, muscle aches, swollen lymph nodes, chills, exhaustion and a chickenpox-like rash on the hands and face.

The virus can be transmitted through contact with skin lesions and droplets of a contaminated person, as well as through shared items such as bedding and towels.

Many of the cases known so far concern homosexual and bisexual men. However, affected people and experts have repeatedly warned against stigmatising gay communities.

How fatal is the disease?

The first monkeypox cases were reported in Germany on May 20th, as the disease continued to spread in West Europe.

At the weekend, the first two deaths outside of West Africa were reported in Spain.

READ ALSO: WHO warns ‘high’ risk of monkeypox in Europe as it declares health emergency

The RKI has urged people returning from West Africa and in particular gay men, to see their doctors quickly if they notice any chances on their skin.

According to the latest estimates, there are 23,000 monkeypox cases worldwide, and Europe is particularly affected with 14,000 cases.

There have been 2,677 monkeypox cases in Germany as of August 2, 2022. Photo: CDC handout

About eight percent of patients in Europe have been hospitalised so far, reported the World Health Association on Monday, mostly due to severe pain or additional infections.

In general, the mortality of the variant currently circulating in Europe is estimated to be low.

READ ALSO: More cases of monkeypox ‘expected’ in Germany

Will a vaccine make a difference?

Since July, a vaccine has been authorised in 27 EU member states and in Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway. 

The Standing Committee on Vaccination (STIKO) recommends vaccination against monkeypox in Germany for certain risk groups and people who have had close contact with infected people.

So far, the German government has ordered 240,000 vaccine doses, of which 40,000 had been delivered by Friday. 

Around 200,000 doses are set to follow by the end of September. 

The German Aids Federation (DAH) on Friday called for one million vaccine doses, stressing that the current supplies will fall short of meeting need.

“The goal must be to reduce the number of infections as quickly as possible and to get the epidemic permanently under control,” explained Ulf Kristal of the DAH board in Berlin on Friday.

But this is only possible, he said, if as many people at risk of infection as possible are vaccinated.

“We don’t assume the epidemic will be over when the doses available so far have been vaccinated,” Axel Jeremias Schmidt, Epidemiologist and DAH Consultant for Medicine and Health Policy, wrote in a press release.

As long as there are monkeypox infections, he said, people who are at risk must be offered vaccination. 

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