Germany: a Mutti State, not a Nanny State?
While quite liberal on lifestyle laws compared to its European neighbours, 40% of Germany is still under an extreme smoking ban in bars, restaurants and nightclubs.
Is smoking a sin? Well, a small one perhaps, according to Angela Merkel during a recent election broadcast. The Chancellor and CDU leader confessed to smoking a cigarette in her youth and not telling her parents. She may have meant that not telling her own Mutti was the sin, rather than smoking per se, which is more understandable.
It might be something of a cliché to illustrate the values of Germany though the words of one of its politician. But it is certainly true that the country can still boast of a certain liberalism when it comes to lifestyle choices.
Germany is, after all, one of the more laid back countries of Europe when it comes to restrictions on smoking, e-cigarettes, drink, and food. In categories such as tax, bans and publicity blackouts Germany is less bossy and more resistant to lifestyle lobbyists that most of the rest of Europe.
This is something to be celebrated of course. But at election time we must always be vigilant as campaigners of all kinds — who mostly have a vested interest of some sort — try to bend the ears of politicians all too tempted to sell their soul for a few more votes.
I declare an interest, too. Forest EU is a ‘counter-lobby’ group set up to promote the interests of smokers across Europe. We accept the health risks of smoking, and defend the rights of law-abiding adults to enjoy tobacco. Above all we resist the rather sinister tactics of anti-tobacco campaigners who seek to achieve their goals by ‘de-normalising’ (as their jargon put it) tobacco products and thus ostracising smokers from society.
That’s why we are launching our Manifesto this week. It is election time and German smokers are citizens and taxpayers, too: they represent 25% of the population and contributed €14 billion to the public budget in excise duties in 2016.
More importantly, despite its relative liberal attitude compared to other European countries, Germany stays among the most regulated places on earth in which to smoke. An average of 74.4% of the price of a pack of cigarettes in Germany is duties and taxes. Nearly 40% of the German population (in Bavaria, North Rhine-Westphalia and Saarland) live in a state with a strict smoking ban including all restaurants, pubs, cafés and discos.
It is not just a question of protecting individual liberty and rejecting the nasty tone used by the anti-smokers’ lobby. Restrictions on tobacco use — like all kinds of prohibition — have damaging side effects. As taxes on cigarettes go up, it becomes more profitable to smuggle them. Organised crime benefits, law-abiding people suffer, and the young are targeted by unscrupulous black market traders.
Many of the restrictions on tobacco do not have the desired effect in reducing smoking rates. The percentage of smokers in Germany is already falling, and have been for many decades. There is no evidence that smoking bans and other draconian measures have any effect other than to make the life of those who want to smoke miserable. High taxes simply hurt the poorest most.
Enough is enough. We must change our approach to tobacco regulation. Let Germany be a beacon of tolerance and good sense in this regard. New legislation on smoking must be evidence-based and it must be carefully reviewed over time. The wishes of those citizens who chose to smoke must be respected and their views considered.
Germany may be staying a Mutti state in this election, but let’s make sure it doesn’t become a nanny state.
This opinion piece was originally published on Medium.