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.


olching said...

Love the latest Schmidt story. He is truly a great man.

I feel we need to emphasise to the social and cultural aspect of smoking much more (as you did on the world service). It is sociable, and it is cultural, and as Harold Pinter rightly said, smoking is good for one's mental health.

The latest draconian proposal is yet another victory for the philistine health rationality; tragic times.

Unknown said...


Whats wrong with being healthy and rational? especially when the alternative is cancer!

No amount of passionate rhetoric can disguise the fact that smokers are addicts and therefore unreliable witnesses in regard to their anti-social habit.

Gibepregiba said...

I am a smoker (one package per day), and I curse the day I started! If I only then knew that smoking isn't cool, if it was forbidden for 14y.o. to buy cigarettes, that isn't normal that 80% of nation smoke...

I really hope that in Serbia, is going to be that draconian proposal. They tried, but only in few restaurants in Belgrade, you can find smoking and non-smoking areas. And it is even funnier situations, in places like courts. You cant smoke inside the building and result is that lawyers, judges, criminals, smoke together in toilets.

But also, here in Serbia, like I said 80% of population smoke, and I think that no government is going for really to ban smoking, because there will be a lot of angry ppl, in tobacco crises.

Maybe than I will stop smoking. I did during pregnancy, I thought I was going mad. I think that these anti-smoking actions, will help ppl to stop smoking slowly, which is less painful.

olching said...


There is nothing wrong with being healthy and rational, but it's a personal choice whether to live accordingly or not.

I reject the view that all smokers are addicts. Smoking can be addictive, but for some it simply isn't addictive. I'm a point in case. I haven't smoked in two weeks; not because I am trying to give up (I will probably smoke again tomorrow when out with friends), but simply because the situation hasn't made me feel like it.

I often go without cigarettes and then smoke a lot for a while, and then leave it.

In any case, you do not understand the fundamental issue: Namely that there can be more important things to society than hankering after total health in an overly sanitised world. Smoking can be cultural and social, and there is a whole history of culture which is being destroyed at a whim, which health puritans do not understand. I've stopped trying to explain it to them.

The alternative by the way is not cancer, since smoking doesn't cause cancer, but merely increases the chances of getting cancer (but you may also not get cancer through smoking). Being precise in these matters is important.

Neil Clark said...

olching- I couldn't agree more.

there certainly are more important things to society than hankering after total health in an overly sanitised world. The world is becoming increasingly standarised and sanitised- Starbucks 'culture' triumphing over bohemian culture. We might not die so much from smoking but we'll die a lot sooner from boredom.

andrew- some smokers are addicts, but some aren't, in the same way that some people who drink alcohol are alcholics and others are happy with the occasional tipple.

gibepregiba: great to hear from you.
Serbia is one of the most 'alive' countries in Europe- a country that hasn't yet been sanitised and had the life sucked out of it by by Starbucks and co- and I fear that a smoking ban would change the whole nature of social life there.

If you want to quit smoking a packet of cigarettes a day, have you tried switching to cigars/cigarillos- less addictive and less unhealthy?

all the very best, Neil

Unknown said...


I only know one " social smoker" ( an oxymoron surely! ) who only smokes once or twice a month when out socialising. Every other smoker I know detests having to feed their addiction, and all are constantly trying to give up.

To equate smoking with socially responsible alcohol consumption is ridiculous as alcohol consumption, in moderation, can actually have a postive effect on ones mental and physical health, whilst smoking can only damage one's health.

The enjoyment people say they get from cigarettes is similar to the enjoyment someone would get from taking off a tight pair of shoes they have been wearing in - i.e it is just enabling the smoker to feel normal!

celtblood said...

A couple of points being missed are these... the smoking "studies" (at least the ones carried out here in the USA) were largely manipulated to get the results those performing the tests were looking for. Also, the chemicals used in growing and processing tobacco have not been considered separately, nor tested separately. Those are the more likely culprits in smoking related disease, and not so much the tobacco itself.

Then there's the fact that the effects of other airborne toxins and particulates, because they're unseen, are not factored in-- hence, tobacco smoke is probably getting a lot of blame it doesn't deserve. Add to that the probability that exposure to so-called "secondhand smoke" may help build an immunity to other (more serious) airborne toxins.

Finally, an unintentional (and doubtlessly an unwanted) result of these many studies indicate that (statistically) pipe smokers out-live NON-smokers by approximately three years.

The bottom line is, we really don't know how smoking effects the majority of people because the tests and studies have been slanted and have ignored additional factors.

Tobacco is an easy target, as are smokers, and this is obviously a political issue as opposed to a genuine health issue.