Australia this week introduced some of the world’s toughest laws on tobacco advertising – packaging has to bear carry images showing the effects of smoking such as cancerous lungs, a sick baby and rotten teeth, while the brand name is relegated to a small space.
Germany in contrast, not only sells comparatively cheap cigarettes, but is the last country in the European Union to continue to allow outdoor advertising of tobacco products.
The government remains one of the most lax in tobacco control in the western world – due to the economic power of tobacco companies, Dr Martina Pötschke-Langer from German Cancer Research Centre (DKFZ) told The Local.
“Tobacco companies have enormous power over German politicians,” she said. “The economy ministry in particular is incredibly strong in the German cabinet, and it has a close relationship with tobacco lobbyists,” she said. “This means that the health ministry comes second.”
But not only are German politics not strong enough to overrule the tobacco industry, the country has been on the back foot in researching the effects of smoking since the Second World War when, Pötschke-Langer explained, swathes of the country’s scientists were killed or fled.
This means that there has been much less home-grown research and fewer statistics published concerning German smokers.
Pötschke-Langer – who is not only head of cancer prevention for the DKFZ but also for the World Health Organisation tobacco control collaboration centre – is just one of countless experts who have been urging for the German government to change its tobacco legislation, but with little notable success.
A hard-line approach similar to that in Australia would have huge benefits for Germany, she explained – particular in dissuading ex-smokers from returning to tobacco, non-smokers from starting and persuading smokers to give up.
Photographs on packs of cancerous lungs, rotten teeth and deformed sperm “speak more than a thousand words, reach everyone and are a cost-effective way of educating lots of people,” she added.
The introduction of non-branded packets was also a move she said could be highly effective in reducing the country’s number of smokers. “When a packet becomes neutral it becomes a lot less attractive, especially to young people,” she said.
Social acceptance of smoking was, she said, slowly waning in Germany, aided by the nation’s penchant for travelling around Europe.
“Germans love to travel and when they go to the UK, or other countries, and see non-smoking bars they have their eyes opened.”
Although some moves have been made in Germany to ban smoking from public places, the principle is unevenly followed across the country, with many get-out clauses for bars in particular.
A cancer prevention doctor by trade, Pötschke-Langer said she did not think Germany could manage alone. “There is hope for the Germans, but we need outside pressure from the EU,” she said.