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July 1st, 2008:

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Public Smoking Becomes Illegal Throughout Germany

AFP – July 1, 2008

BERLIN (AFP) – Lighting up in bars and restaurants become illegal across Germany’s 16 states on Tuesday, spelling the end of the country’s status as one of Europe’s last smokers’ havens.

North-Rhine Westphalia and Thuringia became the last two regions to implement public smoking bans on July 1, all other states having done so piecemeal since late 2007.

In Berlin, where a ban took effect on January 1, smokers were granted a six-month period of grace that expired on Tuesday and those who breach the ban now face fines of 1,000 euros (1,575 US dollars).

In the eastern state of Saxony, fines can run up to 5,000 euros but in the northern port of Hamburg and Thuringia, in eastern Germany, the highest fine authorities can issue is 500 euros.

The wealthy southern state of Bavaria is considered to have the country’s toughest public smoking ban because it prohibits restaurants from opening separate smoking sections — a practice allowed in other states.

The new anti-tobacco laws have met with strong popular resistance and are being challenged in courts around the country, where nearly one in three adults smoke.

In Saxony, Schleswig-Holstein and Rhineland-Palatinate, judges have lifted the ban in single-room bars, provided the owners serve the drinks themselves.

The German Constitutional Court last month began hearing three legal challenges to the new laws, including one from barkeepers and nightclub owners who contend that it interferes with their right to practise their profession.

The German cancer association, which claims 3,300 people die from passive smoking in Germany annually, said Tuesday that the extension of the ban to all states meant “people can breathe a sigh of relief.”

But the country’s biggest anti-tobacco lobby, Pro Rauchfrei, has said efforts to stamp out public smoking are doomed because the absence of a single federal ban and the number of exemptions allowed by the courts have created too much confusion.