The percentage of German youths who smoke cigarettes has been cut in half over the past dozen years, according to a report released Monday by the government’s Federal Centre for Health Education (BZgA).
Between 2001 and the present, the proportion of adolescents in Germany between the ages of 12 and 17 who smoke plunged from 27.5 percent to 12 percent, the Centre stated. In addition, almost three-fourths (71.7 percent) of that population sub-group -- an all-time new high -- have never taken a puff, up from 40.5 percent in 2001.
Among the 18-to-25 year-old age group, the percentage of smokers has slipped from 44.5 percent to 35.2 percent during that time period.
Overall, there is little difference between the sexes in smoking behavior, the group stated.
"The latest figures on the smoking behavior of young people are among the lowest that we have collected since the beginning of our studies,” said Professor Dr. Elisabeth Pott, BZgA’s director, to the Neue Osnabrücker Zeitung newspaper.
“Non-smoking has become a social norm for young people in recent years. What is particularly pleasing is that the trend of not smoking will [likely] continue steadily among young adults.”
But she cautioned that the latest data confirm that “tobacco prevention also needs to be further implemented in future schools to reach all social classes.”
Public smoking has been banned in Germany since 2007, but Deutsche Welles reported that some bars and restaurants across the country skirt the law and allow patrons to light up. This is partially attributed to the fact that smoking regulations are enforced at the state level, meaning rules are not uniform on a national scale.
Lothar Binding, a Social Democrat politician who launched the restrictions against public smoking, told DW: "You cannot tell a young person in Mannheim [in southwestern Germany] that smoking is forbidden because it endangers health, while it is allowed a few miles away in Ludwigshafen -- or vice versa.”
Binding also claimed that three-fourths of the German public favors a smoking ban, despite hostility to the legislation from the tobacco lobby, some smokers, restaurant owners and other special interest groups.
But many parts of Germany allow exemptions to the smoking in public laws.
"A comprehensive ban on smoking in bars and restaurants has so far only been implemented in Bavaria and Saarland; the remaining 14 states allow several exemptions to their regulations," stated the German Cancer Research Centre.
For example, in the town of Schwerin, in the region of Mecklenburg-West Pomerania, 93 percent of bars still permit smoking, according to PublicServiceEurope.com.
"Anyone looking for a place to have a beer in the evening here without being forced to inhale second-hand smoke will likely be searching for quite a while," the Centre noted in a report.
Two months ago, the western state of North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW) tightened the rules against smoking in public, earning the wrath of some bar owners.
The German Hotel and Hospitality Association (Dehoga) in NRW said 3,000 local businesses could be in danger of closing due to the stricter regulations.
"I might have to close in the winter,” local bar owner Frank Holzhauer told the Taz newspaper.
Moreover, tobacco advertising remains widespread in Germany.
According to PSE, the German government has some very good reasons not to strictly prohibit bans on both public smoking and on tobacco advertisement -- the state makes some €14 billion ($18.3 billion) in taxes from smokers annually.
"We are the last country in Europe to allow direct [tobacco] advertising in the streets," said Martina Pötschke-Langer, head of the unit for cancer prevention at the German Cancer Research Centre, to PSE, noting, among other things, that German cinemas in still run cigarette commercials after 6 p.m. Tobacco is also marketed at music concerts and other public events.
The Internet also presents some challenges to anti-smoking activists.
"Although there is a general ban on tobacco advertising on the internet in Germany, there is a legal grey area and the tobacco manufacturers and dealers use the internet to promote their business," said the German Cancer Research Centre.
"Tobacco companies have set up business websites with detailed information about the company, its philosophy and its products. There are no reliable access controls to ensure that only adults visit these websites."
Pötschke-Langer explained to PSE that the tobacco industry remains a very formidable force in Germany.
"The tobacco industry is able to put politicians under enormous pressure," she said. "Tobacco is the most powerful industry after the weapons industry. There are long-term relationships between the tobacco industry, the politicians and the [major political] parties. The ministry of health is not as important as the ministry of economic and financial affairs."