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Germany to ban smoking in restaurants, discos; bars are exempt

German lawmakers fought shy of introducing a ban on smoking in pubs and bars and have instead agreed to implement a nationwide ban in restaurants, discos and other public places.

Members of Chancellor Angela Merkel's ruling coalition and officials from the Consumer Protection Ministry and Health Ministry decided late yesterday to ban smoking in all public buildings, in restaurants, discos, schools, kindergardens, hospitals and on public transport. Smoking will only be allowed in rooms that are separated by a door, with the exception of schools and kindergardens, where there is to be an outright ban. “We have reached an agreement,” for effective protection of non-smokers, Deputy Agriculture and Consumer Protection Minister Gerd Mueller said in an interview today. The ban does not extend to beer tents, as well as bars and pubs. The smoking ban will bring Germany, Europe's biggest tobacco, closer though not entirely into line with the 13 out of 25 European Union states to have introduced legislation to outlaw smoking in public places. Malta, Ireland and Norway introduced bans in 2004, followed a year later by countries including Italy and Sweden, according to Germany's lower house of parliament Web site. A ban on smoking in public places in England and Wales including all pubs and private clubs comes into force in mid- 2007, while France, Finland and Belgium all plan to tighten existing anti-smoking legislation next year.

Germans have had the right to a smoke-free workplace since 2002, though there are no nationwide laws yet regulating smoking in public buildings or restaurants. The government and the country's Hotel and Catering Association agreed in 2005 to expand the space set aside for non-smokers in almost all restaurants and cafes to prevent legislation to enforce a smoking ban. The agreement will become obsolete if separate legislation is passed next year. “Even if this agreement is 100% met, it would miss its aim,” Lothar Binding, a Social Democrat lawmaker who helped introduce a motion to parliament that asks for a total smoking ban, said in an interview on November 20. While non-smoking areas stop people from smoking in designated spaces, smoke wafting in from elsewhere means ``you're still forced to smoke passively.” Some 27% of Germany's entire population, or about 22 million people, smoked as of 2005, a figure little changed from 10 years ago, according to the Federal Statistics Office. Smoking, along with nutrition and being overweight, is the No. 1 risk factor in deaths from cancer, according to the Heidelberg- based German Cancer Research Center. (Bloomberg)