Friday, October 29, 2010

Oktoberfest 2010 – “smokefree”?

The Bavarian smoking ban includes beer tents like the ones at Oktoberfest in Munich, the Bavarian capital.
So what happened during this years’ festival in the city, (which happened to be the 200th anniversary of Oktoberfest)?

First of all, the local authorities announced that they would not enforce it this time. Official reason was that the administrative registrations of the tent owners had taken place before the decision on the ban. In fact, they wanted to postpone trouble for their staff. They might even have had tactical considerations like taking the peak off people’s potential anger. Instead of making use of this freedom for the benefit of their customers, the tent owners decided to enforce the ban anyway. It was a sort of ‘dry run’ for them (although the term ‘dry’ might not be appropriate with regard to Oktoberfest). Their (alleged) enforcement mainly consisted of not serving beer to customers who were openly smoking (the “maximum penalty” for Oktoberfest visitors, as one landlord put it).

The results:

- Beer prices went up as a consequence of more expenditures for security staff in and outside the tents.

- Special germs were used on the floor inside some of the tents in order to counter the smell of sweat, toilets, leftovers of meals and drinks, and some less tasty stuff. All of that had largely been covered by tobacco odor in the past.

- There were a couple of conflicts, some even violent ones, between guests and staff about the ban.

- And, most importantly: adherence to the ban was, well, a matter of perspective. Some tents still smelt of smoke, cigarettes (on the tables) and butts (on the ground) were visible. In other tents you could detect people smoking clandestinely, hiding cigarettes under the tables (at least when staff was near). That rate of non-compliance increased during the evening and simultaneously with alcohol intake. Some celebrities were “caught” smoking inside. Other tent owners provided balconies and outdoor areas with umbrellas and heaters where people could smoke to their heart’s content.

All in all, a ‘dry run’ that meant less smoking in indoor areas but nothing close to an anti-smokers’ “smokefree” paradise. Oktoberfest is still an earthly place. Let’s see how the situation will look like next year and how much fun the local enforcement officers will have. Time has to show whether Oktoberfest will remain to be the Oktoberfest as we know it, visitors of this year’s festival might shrug their shoulders in resignation about this question.
Evidence about negative economic effects is unclear; that has to do with the adherence rate described above and the general presence of many international tourists.

Pictures from a similar, but smaller Volksfest in Nuremberg/Bavaria, a couple of weeks earlier than Oktoberfest show that things have changed because of the ban:
Sanitarized beer tent at 8pm (wow, what a party)

Outdoor patio with umbrellas and heaters (as you can judge by people’s jackets, it was not really warm, but you could smoke)

Need we say more?

Smoking ban in Bavaria – update

We covered the special Bavarian situation several times in the past (here and here).
Here is what has happened since then:

1. The law was semi-liberalized: the tolerance/smokers‘ club were abolished as a loophole, but smokers’ rooms and plain smokers‘ bar (under certain conditions) became legal.

2. The antis reacted to that by starting a plebiscite. With hundreds of thousands of €uros (smelling of Big Pharma), a favorable press, and the support of several political parties (among them Social Democrats and Green Party) with their countless local volunteers they managed to have enough signatures collected for a referendum. The media did not care about the sources of their money nor their collaboration with a former right-wing extremist parliamentary candidate who spearheaded an association of allegedly 1,000 Bavarian hospitality venues in favor of the ban (nobody ever saw that list).

3. On July 4, 2010 (US Independence Day – cynically), the referendum took place, and the antis won by 60 to 40 %. Their campaign was boosted by media and political support, whereas other political parties chose not to engage in that issue or to show only limited opposition. Counter-campaigns did exist (including independent ones – one of them supported by us) and made some difference, but not enough – evidently.

4. So now there is a total ban on smoking in all Bavarian bars, restaurants, discotheques and so forth. Well, not 100 %. The Bavarian minister of health (a slightly more reasonable member of that species) announced that there is still the option of allowing smoking in an invitees-only environment, e.g. a birthday party, a wedding party or a club meeting. If the persons attending are individually known to the host and others are being prevented from entering the respective room or the whole bar/restaurant during that particular event, smoking tobacco can be permitted by the owner and the host. The number of events like that has grown over the past weeks and it is safe to say that it will continue to grow during the winter.

The interpretation of the law, however, can differ from town to town, with some municipalities cracking down on smokers/bar owners more repressively and more arbitrarily than others.

Smoking bans in Germany – update

After having been a bit silent on this blog recently, it is high time to update you on the situation in Germany. The decision of the Constitutional Court in the summer of 2008 has not lead to many total bans for the hospitality sector so far. Most states have opted for more flexible bans for the time being. Only two of the sixteen German states have enacted such bans by now.
In a very small state called Saarland it became law because the Green Party (major nannies) had obtained a pivotal position in the state legislature after their elections last year. That law has not been introduced yet, though. The State Constitutional Court postponed it in a preliminary decision as the rights of bar and restaurant owners might have been violated: the transitional period might have been too short, and financial compensations by the state might be necessary.
In Bavaria, a much larger and internationally more well-known state, a total ban for the hospitality sector went into effect on August 1, 2010. There is a separate entry about Bavaria.
In other states, there is some pressure by the antis and their political allies to impose harsher bans. So there will be an ongoing struggle with Tobacco Control in Germany, with regard to smoking bans as well as their other measures, proposed tobacco tax hikes and so forth.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

A general has passed away - la lotta continua


A shock for the international movement against lifestyle prohibition: Gian Turci, probably the most leading of its leading figures, died last month at the age of 58, after a severe brain hemorrhage.

Gian was Director of the International Coalition against Prohibition (TICAP), President of Forces Italy, International Coordinator of Freedom2Choose (UK) and CEO of Forces International. Especially in the latter office he grew to be the powerful voice, the sharp intellect and the organizational nerve center of the global fight against the discrimination of lifestyles and health fascism.

After obtaining a degree as an engineer in Italy, he moved to Canada where he spent 15 years of his life. Gian witnessed with dismay the creeping trend of this formerly free country towards nannyism.
When someday the henchmen of „Public Health“ demanded him to stop smoking in front of his children, he began to fight back.
The successful entrepreneur in the field of alternative fuels had been dedicating himself completely to the war – and he always knew it is not just a discussion – against prohibition since 1997.

He founded FORCES Canada and, after his return to Italy (along with his wife and kids), also FORCES Italy. Earning only the minimum money needed in his new job as an interpreter, he uninterruptedly coordinated the activities from Genoa. “I consider myself a person in exile – in many ways”, he once said in an interview.

From morning till night, he initiated and spearheaded numerous projects, he wrote, edited, translated countless articles and other texts, he communicated, conferred and this way became the most reliable resource of this movement. He did not spare himself and worked more than one can expect from anybody over such a long period. Gian sacrificed himself to the liberty he held dear.

FORCES International, the flagship of our movement, owes its clear-cut and uncompromising profile to a large extent to him. Due to his straightforwardness, he was controversial with some activists. But being a founder and officer of TICAP in the last months of his life, Gian gained the well-deserved and undisputed recognition as a father and a leader of our movement.

The convinced libertarian, who also translated works of the classic liberal thinker Bruno Leoni into English, never limited himself to the issue of tobacco. He always saw the big picture of the crusades against the smoking, the eating, the drinking and the underlying structures.

Besides all that, Gian became a true friend to many of his fellow fighters. It was a pleasure to work with him, a warmhearted and humorous human being.

His legacy is a collection of texts and videos, a group of well-working organizations, and a spirit that lives on in many of us.
We can learn from Gian Turci that we must make sacrifices for our beloved freedom. That we have to fight the scientific and institutional corruption and not just its symptoms. That we need discipline, coordination and resources.
That starts with a donation to FORCES International in his honor.

Our sincere sympathy goes to his widow Anne and his two children.

This text is an abbreviated version of the obituary written by TICAP Director Christoph Lövenich on March 12 (in German).

More information at TICAP.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Happy Birthday, Helmut Schmidt!

Today, a legend celebrates his 90th birthday. We warmly congratulate. Former German Chancellor (1974-1982) Helmut Schmidt, the most popular politician in recent German history , is also a role model for smokers. Well-known for his more than 70 years of heavy smoking (up to four packs of menthol cigarettes a day, accompanied by snuff), he constantly ignores smoking bans. "I smoke everywhere, except in a church" is one of his quotes. When the cool and rational Schmidt was asked whether you need passion for your work, he replied: "You need willpower. And cigarettes."

He also smokes when being interviewed. And as his star as a TV personality has risen again the past years, you can watch him regularly on German TV smoking throughout the interviews, regardless of whether smoking bans are in place. There are so many places with smoking bans in this republic. Do you really think I care? Although his hearing abilities have suffered from his age, his intellect remains sharp and he has been having a comeback as a political analyst and historic witness adored by many. He also smokes on American TV, as you can watch here. His 89 year-old wife Loki Schmidt is an equally passionate smoker (in fact, she has been smoking even longer, since she was 10).

A year ago, he and his wife were sued by a fanatical anti-smoker for flouting a smoking ban somewhere.
They just had a laugh.

In his honor we quote parts from an interview with German weekly Die Zeit he gave a couple of months ago

Interviewer: Didn't adults at that time [in the Thirties] have any sense for the dangers of smoking?
Schmidt: No, this hysteria didn't exist yet.
Interviewer: Would you advise young people today not to start smoking?
Schmidt: I wouldn't give unrequested advice to anyone.[...]
Interviewer: Have you never tried to quit smoking altogether?
Schmidt: No, I'm not crazy. [...]
Interviewer: Cynics argue that smokers are beneficial for common welfare: They pay billions of tobacco taxes and die earlier.
Schmidt: I can't do you the favor of dying early anymore. (Lights another cigarette.) It s too late for that now. (Helmut Schmidt laughs.)

We wish him, the concentrate of virtue , and his wife all the best.

Friday, November 21, 2008

German occupational health experts debunk passive smoking fraud

Typical myths of the anti-smoking movement are the alleged dangers to hospitality staff by passive smoking and the claim by an Italian “scientist” that tobacco smoke leads to more toxins in the air than fumes from diesel engines.

This propaganda was given a reality check by the German Berufsgenossenschaft Nahrungsmittel und Gaststätten (BGN), the Employer's Liability Insurance Association for the Food and Hospitality Sector, a compulsory body for all companies in that area, controlled by trade unions and employers’ organizations alike.

Last year, their scientific and prevention department took a closer look at the findings of tobacco control researcher Giovanni Invernizzi (and colleagues) saying that ETS causes more particulate matter than an ecodiesel engine running idle. This study has already been exposed by FORCES International in a thorough theoretical analysis a few years ago. The German scientists of the BGN did something else: they reproduced the experiment under equal circumstances. But they used various different measurement instruments. Their conclusion: With suitable instruments, the pollution by an idling diesel engine is much greater than the one by cigarettes. There is only one instrument that leads to another result: the one Invernizzi used, an Aerosol Monitor unable to detect a large part of the ultrafine particulate matter from the car.

The BGN analysis is now available in English (3 pages).

Furthermore, the occupational health researchers from Mannheim scrutinized alleged risk elevation for lung cancer among exposed hospitality employees. Once again, they did own empirical work, using data by health insurance providers about millions of employees in Germany, comparing the hospitality worker to peoples working in other branches of trade . Their conclusion:
“In contrast to the estimated data in the “calculated” models, this analysis of real patients’ data
showed results that prove a lot less lung cancers, and heart and bronchial diseases of
employees in this sector, compared to other sectors. There was no distinction between
smokers and non-smokers.“

If reality does not support epidemiologist charlatanry, then reality must be wrong.

In more general terms, the scientists critized the literature on passive smoking and lung cancer.
“The results of international studies vary considerably, to an extent almost
unprecedented in other fields of epidemiology.
The consequences of the usage of incomparable methods in the individual studies are not scientifically nor socially defensible.
The quality of meta-studies and overview studies is questionable because they cannot
be better than the bases upon which they rely.
It is astonishing how uncritically authors of meta-studies and overview studies deal with
recent studies from the literature and how airily they draw far-reaching conclusions.”

This analysis (7 pages) is also available in English.

The BGN also questions the invented figure of 3.301 annual deaths by passive smoking in Germany, the antis’ propaganda myth no. 1. In a scientific conference, Prof. Ulrich Keil, Big Pharma friend, tobacco control alchemist, and the inventor of these non-existing deaths, was faced with critical questions by the head of the BGN Prevention department, Prof. Dr. Romano Grieshaber. Keil reacted typically: He immediately fled from the conference room.

Speaking the truth makes you unpopular with anti-tobacco, so Prof. Grieshaber became the target of the usual witch-hunt. Behind the scenes, people like Keil tried to remove him from his office at the BGN, the WHO Collaborating Centre on Tobacco Controll in Germany attacked him, using the “well-known defense mechanisms like defamation, emotionalization, and the allegation of dependences” (official BGN paper).

We hope that the voices of scientific decency will not be silenced.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Landslide defeat for anti-smokers in Bavarian state election

Bavaria – Munich, the Alps, lots of beer, the alleged “toughest” smoking ban in Germany and a strong resistance against it, as we reported.
Thousands of tolerance clubs where you can legally smoke, some demonstrations, and increasing discontent with Nannyist government among the Bavarian people.

That set the context of the state elections on September 28. All three parties represented in the state parliament so far (Christian-Social union - CSU, Social Democrats, Greens) had voted for the smoking ban. But the main blame is to be put on the dominant force, the CSU, which has been endowed by the voters with an absolute majority since 1962 and won a whopping 61 % at the last elections in 2003. Formerly THE people’s party in Bavaria and a symbol of the Free State of Bavaria like pretzels or the Hofbräuhaus, the arrogance of power seduced them into health dictatorship.
The politically calm and to some extent even said to be apathetic Bavarians usually don’t get angry at their CSU leaders. But too much is too much. Smoking bans in their local Wirtshaus and next year in beer tents as well? Maybe even legislation on their beloved alcohol and food? It had become high time to give those that had lost touch with their constituents a slap on the face.

And what a slap, right in the face of the antis!

The CSU lost 17,3 % of their votes, not just their worst result since 1954, but also the heaviest loss of a party in any German state election since 1950. Ending up with just 43,4 %, they lost their absolute majority and need a coalition partner now.
The Social Democrats, also proponents of the smoking ban, booked their worst result ever in post-war Bavaria, and the Green Party, the most fervent supporters of smoking bans, could not reach their electoral goals either.

Winners of the elections were the Free Democrats who had loudly opposed the smoking ban during the campaign, and the Free Voters who alsohad critized this measure. Both parties received about 10 % of the votes each.

Certainly, the smoking issue was not the only reason for the historic defeat of the CSU in Bavaria. But is was a crucial one, and for many voters, it symbolized a broader picture of arrogance and state intervention into the privates lives of the citizens, and of policital changes to the worse. Some rascals are thrown out, and the CSU, pressurized by the Free Democrats as the likely coalition partner, will have to revise the smoking ban.

Smokers have shown their electoral power and relevance, they have raised their middle finger in a way that actually hurt the politicians. Well done!

P.S.: Forces Germany, as well as other groups and initiatives, had put a lot of effort into mobilizing and educating the Bavarian voters during the campaign. We launched and promoted a special website, and spread more than one hundred thousand printed copies of “Neues vom Schelm”, a periodic publication with issues about the passive smoking fraud and the damages done by smoking bans.