Culture: Smoking in Germany

Smoking in Germany is still very popular. So popular, in fact, that a study conducted by the RKI in 2017 showed that 20.8% of women and 27% over the age of 18 smoke at least occasionally.

There has been a strict smoking ban in public spaces in the UK since 2007. Over the following ten years, more and more was done to clamp down on smoking and tobacco advertising. By 2015/2016, all cigarettes had to be sold in plain packaging, no less than 20 in a pack, with clear health warnings covering at least 65% of the front and back. They were locked away behind a cabinet at the kiosk of your chosen supermarket or local shop. Now, you have to know what you’re buying before you buy it.

I was fourteen when the ban was introduced. For my entire adult life, the normality has been that, should smoking be your thing, then you must partake outside in a designated smokers area. Sometimes there’s a little shed if you’re lucky.

Cigarette vending machines.

So you can imagine the shock when, upon seeing my new street in Germany in the daylight for the first time, I laid eyes on this:

A cigarette vending machine at the local fuel station, of all places…

And they are EVERYWHERE.

I vaguely remember seeing these in the toilets of the many pubs I frequented as a child (my father liked to smoke and drink…a lot. This was how we spent Friday nights as kids). But I believe they were also banned shortly after the smoking ban came into place. And I never saw one on a street corner!

There is also a smoking ban in Germany.



The same year that Britain brought in its smoking ban, so did Germany. 

Smoking indoors in Germany is largely against the law. However, it has to be said that these tobacco laws are not always enforced.

Bavaria, the state I currently reside in, has the strictest rules against smoking indoors. But even then, you’re allowed to smoke indoors under the following conditions:

  • Patients in: palliative care and psychiatric hospitals where smoking can be permitted at every station in a side room. In addition, the director of a correctional facility may permit smoking in common areas.
  • In a police department or public prosecutions office, where “interrogations are conducted and the interrogated person is a smoker and has the permission of the director or head of department”.
  • On stage – smoking is permitted if it is part of an artistic performance.

If you want to find out how relaxed the rest of the states are, there’s a handy chart on this Wikipedia page.

You can still buy them at the Kasse (checkout).

Cigarettes are still widely available in branded packets at the till. Although most of them are hidden behind some kind of gate type device, you simply press the button against the brand you want and the packet slides onto the till next to your shopping. 

The cigarette machines that are available at checkouts. Just press your button and receive your cigarettes!

Weird, huh?!

In some larger supermarkets, at airports and at service stops, it is also still possible to buy cigarettes and tobacco in huge bags or boxes. 

Tobacco advertising still exists.

This was the weirdest one for me. Since tobacco marketing in the press and on billboards has been outlawed since 2003 in Britain, I don’t have any memories of seeing cigarettes being advertised as a child. 

But alas, one day, I was on my daily walk around my town when I found this:

It was almost like being catapulted back in time, or into a scene in Mad Men, where cigarettes and smoking are made out to be sexy, fashionable and cool.

But it won’t be like this for much longer…

Tobacco advertising laws are changing.

From the beginning of 2021, tobacco advertising has been banned in cinemas – but only for films aimed at those aged 18 and below. I’m not sure how much difference this will make considering many cinemas across the country have been closed for almost a year. 

What is fascinating to me is that they ever advertised cigarettes before kids films in the first place?! It is sehr, sehr komisch.

Outdoor advertising for ‘conventional’ tobacco products (i.e. at bus stops and on billboards) will be banned from January 2022. Which might explain why I’m suddenly seeing SO MANY of them. They’re getting their money’s worth over the next twelve months. 

Advertising of Tobakerhitzer (translated as: tobacco heaters) will be next, banned from January 2023. The final ban (for now) will come in January 2024 when the promotion of e-cigarettes and refill containers will also be banned.

Several things strike me as odd about the bans that are coming into effect over the next few years. Firstly, I’m intrigued as to the reasoning behind staggering the bans. Why not just ban all advertising from a certain date? Secondly, why only now?

It seems that Germany is years behind its other European neighbours in their stamping down on smoking. For a country that is usually very forward-thinking and, in my opinion, has been pretty progressive, this surprises me.

Maybe in the future, the tobacco ban will go further, like it has done in Britain. But for now, with many Germans still smoking, I would say the government will have a hard time completely stamping out smoking in Germany.

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