Wednesday, December 10, 2008
European smokers light the fires of resistance
Another day, yet another victory in Britain for the anti-smoking zealots. Not content with Britain having arguably the most draconian anti-smoking laws in the world, we're now to have a ban on shop displays of tobacco.
In the rest of Europe however, the zealots are not having it all their own way. Here's my piece on the growing pan-European smoking resistance movement, from The First Post.
If you hold to the stereotype of Germans as people who love obeying rules, however ludicrous, then think again. Across Europe, a resistance movement is growing to the many draconian bans on smoking, and leading the rebellion are the Germans.
Germany is home to a plethora of anti-ban organisations and smokers' rights groups including the 'resistance' group Smoking Rebels, who record pro-smoking rock songs and rail against Europe's new anti-smoking 'dictatorship', and the Pan-European Association of Smokers, whose purpose is to "achieve reasonable conditions for smokers in all European countries".
Bans on smoking in Germany have been circumvented by bars charging a nominal entry fee and thereby transforming themselves into private clubs, which still have the right to set their own smoking rules. Bans have also been overturned in the courts: this summer the Federal Constitutional Court upheld complaints made by small bar owners in Tubingen and Berlin that the bans were damaging their business.
Meanwhile leading German personalities, including the 89-year-old former Chancellor Helmut Schmidt, a life-long heavy smoker, have openly flouted the new laws. Schmidt and his 88-year-old wife Loki (above) were pictured smoking at a theatre reception in Hamburg. A case bought against them by an anti-smoking group, which accused the theatre of abetting the pair by providing them with ashtrays, was dismissed by the city's authorities.
It's a similar story of rebellion in the Netherlands. There, the ban on smoking tobacco (but not, incidentally, marijuana) in enclosed public places, introduced in July, has been widely ignored. In the city of Den Bosch last month, the majority of pubs allowed their clients to smoke in protest against the ban. Around 500 establishments have been fined for breaching the new law, but faced with the prospect of losing their clientele, many bar owners have preferred to allow their regulars to carry on smoking.
In both Holland and Denmark, smokers' parties have been formed. The Danish Smokers Party (Rygerpartiet) has as its first stated goal "to get parliament representation, in order to combat smoking laws". It fights "for the right to diversity and nonconformism" in Denmark and opposes the "daily discrimination, harassment and persecution of tobacco smokers". The party has recently been renamed the 'Party against Nannyism'.
Ironically, the country in Europe where there has arguably been the least resistance to anti-smoking legislation is Britain. The country that stood alone against the Nazis in 1940 is the one which seems keenest to observe laws that were first introduced by the Nazis in Germany in the 1930s. Whatever would the inveterate cigar smoker Winston Churchill have made of that?
UPDATE: You can hear me arguing against the British government's ludicrous ban of tobacco displays, on the BBC World Service's Europe Today programme, here. My contribution is about two-thirds into the programme.