Hardly anything in Germany is as consistent as cigarette advertising. As early as 2004, the Bundestag had committed itself to enacting a comprehensive ban on all forms of tobacco advertising by 2010 at the latest. But even in 2020, cigarette multinationals will still be allowed to advertise their products on lithograph columns, billboards or bus stops – although it has been proven that advertising seduces children and young people to smoke.
Germany is the only country in the EU that still allows such advertising. Because some Union politicians around the former group chairman Volker Kauder have repeatedly prevented the ban on cigarette advertising with all sorts of tricks and harassment.
Last autumn, it looked as if the road was finally clear. First Chancellor Angela Merkel spoke a word of power, then Union Group leader Ralph Brinkhaus – after all, the CDU/CSU parliamentary group voted in December by a majority in favour of a tobacco advertising ban. This should apply from the beginning of 2021: first for conventional cigarettes, later for tobacco heaters and e-cigarettes.
Then came the corona crisis. And abruptly slowed down work on policy issues such as tobacco advertising. The pandemic overlays everything else.
Will the German tobacco advertising ban be nothing in the end?
This is what SPD health expert Karl Lauterbach fears. At the coalition level, “nothing has been done so far,” Lauterbach tells SPIEGEL. “It must not happen that the issue is kept silent. When should we adopt such an important public health measure, if not now, in times of epidemic?” Every year, about 120,000 people die from smoking or passive smoking in Germany.
Time is running out for the change in the law. It must be adopted this year. Otherwise, the restrictions will not be able to enter into force on 1 January 2021. For this, the new regulations would have to be passed by the parliamentary procedure in the summer in order to be adopted by the Bundestag and the Bundesrat in the autumn. Whether this will work is completely uncertain, because the sitting weeks in Parliament are shortened, because of Corona. In addition, there is internal disagreement about the precise design of the rules.
It is true that in December the Union Group had asked the Federal Government to draw up a drafting aid. But this is still in the chancellery, because there is a fight for a supposed detail: nicotine-free refill containers for e-cigarettes. These liquids are not only used for nicotine-free vaping. Many steamers buy them together with nicotine shots and mix them. Therefore, the same content regulations should apply to them as to refill containers with nicotine liquids.
The Ministries of Justice and Agriculture recommend a one-year sell-off period. They fear that otherwise the manufacturers could file a constitutional complaint and thus succeed. The drug commissioner Daniela Ludwig (CSU), on the other hand, is strongly opposed to transitional periods. After all, companies have a lot of time to adapt their products.
Removed from the agenda
Under normal circumstances, the dispute in the Cabinet might have already been resolved. Last week, tobacco advertising was first on the agenda here. But then the point was deleted again. Discussions on the ob and how of a cautious reopening of the country after the Corona lockdown took precedence.
SPD man Lauterbach announces that he will press the issue again. After all, according to insiders, the German government has already informed the EU of its plans – and submitted a draft at the end of March. In theory, the Brussels Commission and the other Member States would now have until the end of June to raise concerns. It is highly unlikely that this will happen. After all, nowhere in the EU is tobacco advertising regulated as laxly as in Germany.
Health experts are concerned. “The corona crisis must not be used to delay the long overdue tobacco advertising ban,” Ute Mons, epidemiologist and head of the Cancer Prevention Unit at the German Cancer Research Center in Heidelberg, told SPIEGEL. “Especially in this pandemic, it is clear once again that smoking puts people’s health at risk.”
In common tobacco-related pre-diseases such as cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and cancer, the risk of severe Covid-19 is higher. The Robert Koch Institute also counts smokers among the risk groups.