A good ten years have passed since smoking bans were introduced in Germany. Using the example of Bavaria, I would like to review these ten years.
On January 1st 2008, smoking bans should have been come into force in Bavaria, a Bundesland (state) in the South of Germany. In a quiet backroom politicians and the DEHOGA Bayern, the German Hotel and Restaurant Association, decided on a legislative proposal. One has to know that the DEHOGA’s member base consists largely of major hotels and restaurants and that the DEHOGA saw in smoking bans an opportunity to significantly reduce cleaning expenditures of the businesses of its members.
Insiders confirmed that the original smoking ban legislation literally came from the pen of the DEHOGA Bavaria. The original bill included some exceptions, such as restaurants that had several rooms were allowed to declare one room as a smoking room. However, single room bars/pubs did not have this option. CSU (Christian Social Union) MP Georg Stockinger considered this law to be un unfair and so he demanded, together with 40 allies, that the proprietors of small pubs/bars should be allowed to decide for themselves whether to allow smoking in their pubs/bars.
The advocates for a total smoking ban in pubs and restaurants took Stockinger’s initiative as an opportunity to design horror scenarios according to which the smoking ban, barely introduced, would be weakened again. The ruling party, CSU, caved in facing the concentrated power of the militant anti-smoking lobby and removed the exemption of a smoking room for larger venues from the bill.
Therefore the Bavarian smoking ban became the strictest of its kind in Germany. There was only one exception left in the new legislation: the so-called “Private Clubs.” This was to avoid problems with the Federal Constitutional Court as a “private club” is considered private space and not public space. And the state cannot dictate smoking bans in private areas.
Many proprietors in Bavaria begun to reach deep into their bag of tricks. They simply declared their venue a “private club” and to be on the safe side, the venue was declared to be a club with existing members. As early as March 2008, there were at least 1500 of such clubs in Bavaria in which smoking was still allowed. Anyone who held himself in high esteem had at least 20 membership cards from different smoker clubs in his wallet. This fact led militant anti-smoking organizations’ actions to escalate. The NIM, the Non-smokers’ Initiative Munich, who reinterpreted the Bavarian saying “live and let live” into “die and let die”, filed a popular appeal at the Bavarian Constitutional Court, in which they demanded a ban of the rapidly increasing number of smoking clubs. This lawsuit failed. However, in the same manner fundamental lawsuits against smoking bans as well as the total smoking ban failed, too.
In the autumn of 2008 there were state elections in Bavaria and, one would hardly believe it possible, the CSU received greatest defeat in its history. If the party received 60.4% of all votes cast in the previous parliamentary elections, it was only 43.4% in these state elections. For the first time after 50 years, the CSU was forced to enter into a coalition with the FDP (Free Democratic Party), whose votes received rose from 2% in the previous state elections to 8% in these state elections. Hardly anyone doubted that these devastating losses for the CSU were the response to the total smoking ban legislation in Bavaria’s pubs and restaurants.
In principle, the situation was a win-win situation for everyone involved. Smokers were still able to smoke indoors in smoking clubs, and people suffering from tobacco hysteria had their smoke-free pubs/bars. However, the anti-smokers wanted to push further and the CSU was still struggling with its defeat in the state election. So the CSU/FDP coalition decided to amend the smoking ban. Restaurants and pubs/bars with multiple rooms could now declare a room to be a smoking room and the proprietors of small pubs/bars could decide whether to allow smoking, or declare their venue to be smoke-free. In turn, the smoker clubs were abolished. Fact is, this amendment of the smoking ban was not a weakening but a tightening of the law, because when the smoker clubs existed there were many more options then there were with the new, relatively strict, regulation. The anti-smoking lobby, however, saw it differently and began to spread the tale that “smokers would smoke everywhere in Bavaria again” and that something had to be done about it.
They prepared for a referendum, using all kinds of manipulation. As their political face they chose the ÖDP (Ecologic-Democratic Party) politician Sebastian Frankenberger, who, young and career-driven, jumped for the chance to be harnessed in front of the anti-smoking lobbyists’ carts. Nothing was left to chance. Frankenberger was briefed on phrases to use and the anti-smoking lobby’s propaganda and then he moved from talk show to talk show, interview to interview, discussion to discussion. He peddled the lies and half-truths of the anti-smoking lobby, such as the long-refuted fairy tale of the alleged 3301 second-hand smoke deaths or the claim that heart attack rates had decreased as a result of smoking bans.
All the media was on his side. If Frankenberger decided to wear his long hair down, he could be sure that the Süddeutsche Zeitung dedicated at least one page to this. If he wore his hair in a braid, the Munich Merkur dedicated a page to that. The groups opposing the smoking ban were almost completely ignored by the media. They were only mentioned in conjunction with claims, such as, that they were being paid by the tobacco lobby and similar nonsense. Although I, myself had three times the opportunity to participate in discussions with Mr. Frankenberger, the leading questions were usually worded in a way which made Frankenberger appear in better light.
There were public demonstrations, but reports in the newspapers about these were almost non-existent. It was more important that Sebastian Frankenberger now wore his hair down again.
Yes, mistakes were also made on the part of the anti-smoking opponents. Somehow it was difficult to imagine that this prohibition madness could succeed, and they underestimated that the CSU was completely out of the election campaign. And so came what had to come: The proponents of a total smoking ban in the Bavarian gastronomy won the referendum with gaining about two-thirds of the votes cast. Since the year 2010 in Bavaria a total smoking ban is enforced in restaurants, pubs and bars and there are no more exceptions such as smoking clubs. Even the “private clubs” were scrutinized to be only allowed for weddings and the like.
Bavaria today? Many small pubs/barshad to close and thousands of people lost their jobs. There still are some places where it is possible to smoke inside, but these places are secret and they are illegal. Militant anti-smokers continue to call for denunciations, and most of the pub landlords who still work in their jobs are now indifferent to the smoking ban. There are hardly any more regulars’ tables where people play cards, as was always the case in Bavaria. Such leisure activities have been moved to peoples’ own homes, where they can smoke.
Incidentally, all this was not mentioned in the jubilation reports by the media on the 10th anniversary of the smoking ban in Bavaria.