Saturday, 5 October 2013

Rauchen verboten! Smoking in Berlin

Theoretically it has been illegal to smoke in enclosed public places and on public transportation in Berlin since 1st January 2007. In practice, there are so many loopholes and flaunting of the law that you would be forgiven to think that nothing had changed.

Leastways, there aren't the ugly signs you see everywhere in the UK telling you that 'it is against the law to smoke on these premises'. That's a good thing; it takes a particularly obtuse tobacco-addict to be reminded not to light up in the Marks and Spencer Food Hall. But in Berlin, even when there is a prominent no-smoking sign displayed e.g. at a Rauchverbot Bahnhof (no-smoking station), you shouldn't be surprised to see someone smoking away on the platform underneath it.

It's not even as if the Rauchverbot Bahnhof designation is total: many of these stations have a section of a platform set aside for smoking, delineated by a yellow painted line that the designers perhaps forlornly hoped would have the power to keep the cigarette smoke inside that area. I've even seen people smoking in the underground U-Bahn stations; surely a German Kings Cross Fire Disaster waiting to happen?

The law on smoking in pubs, restaurants, and night-clubs is even more chaotic. Pubs with under a certain floor area (the small local Kneipe) which only serve snacks are exempt from the law, so long as they display a sign (for example, Raucher Kneipe) outside and don't allow under-18's onto the premises. Fair enough; the local smoke-filled Kneipe is a Berlin institution, and to be honest, nobody but the regulars would want to go there. However, I notice that there is a Bier bar on the concourse of Potsdam Hauptbahnhof which despite being in a non-smoking station and open to the rest of the mall (no entrance door, just walk right in), allows smoking and gets away with it because it is so small. 

Aber das ist nicht alles! (as the shopping channels say). Larger pubs and restaurants can also have separate rooms where people can smoke, so long as there is no circulation of air between the two areas. You sometimes have the bizarre sight of a restaurant with one corner divided by a glass wall where the smokers sit, as if in a goldfish tank. I'm not kidding - go to the restaurant on the top floor of the Galeria Kaufhof in Alexanderplatz and you will find a glass-partioned area (which also seems to be used as a staff smokers' rest-room) fuggy with tobacco smoke. What the workers in these places - who still presumably have to work between the smoking and non-smoking areas - do to protect themselves from passive smoking, I don't know. I also am unclear what the owners do to protect themselves from litigation for compensation should their employees unfortunately develop illness.

Night-clubs, discos, and late-night music venues are similarly allowed to have a room for smokers. But don't be surprised if the person standing next to you at an indoor concert lights up: word is that the Kontrolleure who are supposed to check the non-smoking laws are being enacted don't work past ten o'clock.

Outside venues are also exempt, which includes sports grounds, even if they are all-but-enclosed like the Olympia Stadium of Hertha BSC football club. Inside spaces at Hertha's ground are Raucherfrei, but in the seating area - except for the family block - smoking is permitted. By the way, this is just Berlin I am talking about: each of the German Federal States have enacted their own, often different, no-smoking laws.

Na ja, es ist egal, because nobody in Berlin seem to give a proverbial about smoking anyway. A Berliner has explained to me that the left-wing in particular are heroic smokers because smoking was banned under Nazi Germany. It is true that Germany led the way in both research into the deleterious effects of tobacco smoking and in public campaigns to kick the habit. These started as long ago as 1904 with the founding of the Deutscher Tabakgegnerverein zum Schutze der Nichtraucher (The German Organization Against Tobacco for the Protection of Non-Smokers). During the Nazi period, German researchers were the first scientists in the world to prove the link between lung cancer and smoking tobacco (Müller 1939).

During the late 1930's the Nazis introduced legislation to outlaw smoking, which nowadays sound quite reasonable, e.g. banning smoking in schools, on aeroplanes, in hospitals, and on trains, and also restricting midwives from smoking whilst on duty. Smoking was initially forbidden in the air-raid bunkers, but then they found they had to set up a separate smoking room. In fact, smoking actually increased in Nazi Germany.

'Not he it ... it devours him! Title: the Chain Smoker'
Source Wikipedia:
Hitler had himself once been a heavy smoker, but he gave it up concluding it was a waste of money. He later came to see it as 'racially decadent', and was rather miffed that his friends Eva Braun, Martin Bormann and Hermann Göring continued to smoke. (of course, Göring had a rather more alarming morphine addiction, so it wasn't the worse of his health worries). Blondi was reputedly on twenty a day.

Whilst Nazi anti-smoking policies were quite progressive, the reasons behind them were rather typically unsound. Women were discouraged from smoking, for example, because it aged them prematurely and made them less attractive to men wishing to marry and progenerate the Master Race. Plus the nicotine made their babies weaklings in the womb, and continued to poison them through the mother's milk. All basically true, but if your reason for a public health campaign is not to help people live healthier, happier lives but to ensure a steady supply of troops for the front line, something has gone askew with your moral compass. And inevitably, but depressingly, the Nazis blamed the Jews for bringing tobacco to German soil and spreading the habit to the detriment of the genetic purity of the Aryan race.

But whatever unsavoriness might be mixed in with the reasons for being against tobacco smoking, saying you are pro-smoking because Hitler was against it is hardly logical. Hitler also disliked alcohol and was in later life a vegetarian. I am a vegetarian too as it happens, but I am not about to start eating meat because Herr H. was partial to a nut cutlet.

Whatever the ideological reasons, Berliners do seem to smoke an awful lot. On my returns to the Heimat I have noticed less and less Brits openly smoking. I am sure that this has to do with the policies of having signs up everywhere forbidding smoking (even in bus shelters), of displaying by law large colour photos of diseased organs on the cigarette packets, and of hiding them away in unmarked cabinets in the supermarkets. Also the price of course.

By contrast, Berlin cigarettes still come in designer cartons, are available right by the checkout in every supermarket (including Rossmann, who are like a non-dispensing Boots), and are a lot cheaper. If a packet of twenty Marlboro costs the equivalent of 8 € in the UK, then the same packet costs about 5 € in Berlin. If you nip over the nearby border then you find that the Polish equivalent is 2,50 €. And if you buy the Russian cigarettes from the Vietnamese guys with large shopping bags who hang around train stations, they cost about 1,20 € (I am not giving tips here!).

Now hier ist der Hammer: I speak as a heavy smoker of many years who hasn't had a single cigarette since 19th February 2013 (over 32 weeks!). How do I do it? Simple: the use of an electronic nicotine delivery system more simply called an e-cigarette, or E-Zigarette in German. Actually, my device is more of a pipe. I use a Joyetech eGo-C rechargeable battery (Batterie) which delivers a small current to an atomizer (Verdampfer) contained in a cone-shaped body that screws onto the battery. I fill a mouthpiece/cartridge with so-called e-liquid that fits onto the cone. This liquid contains pharmacy-pure nicotine diluted with glycerine or propylene glycol, water, and vegetable flavorings. When I put the mouthpiece in my mouth, press a button on the battery, and suck, a current vaporises the liquid and delivers a taste and smoke effect into my lungs. The 'smoke' is in fact particles of aqueous glycerine that condense to form a cloud of vapour - it is the same effect that you get with stage smoke at rock concerts. The flavorings can be tobacco-flavoured, or can be food-grade strawberry, hazelnut, menthol, liquorice, cherry, coffee -  peanut butter even! They can be bought ready-made, though I find it much cheaper to mix my own; it also means I can create my own flavour combinations, as well as control how much nicotine is delivered (or no nicotine at all, of course, which is my ultimate aim).

I can't say the sensation is exactly like smoking tobacco. No, it is better! Much cleaner tastes, you don't hack your lungs up, you don't reek of stale tobacco, you don't annoy everyone around you, you don't drop ash everywhere, you don't burn holes in your clothes, you don't feel you have to smoke to the end of the cigarette even if you don't really want to, it doesn't stain your teeth and fingers yellow, and you aren't poisoning your body and giving yourself lung cancer. Nicotine in itself is a powerful stimulant and an addictive pyscho-active drug - this mustn't be forgotten. So is caffeine of course. The greater harm from cigarettes comes from the cocktail of 4,000 chemicals it puts into your body, including 70 cancer-causing chemicals, and hundreds of other poisons such as carbon monoxide, cyanide, arsenic, and ammonia.

Let me spell out the comparison again :
cigarettes = 4,000 chemicals, hundreds of which cause cancer or are poisonous
e-cigarettes = 5 ingredients: water, glycerine, nicotine (optional), food flavoring, propylene glycol.

Of course, there are issues around vapeing (as it is called - there is no smoke, it is vapour) as it is un-regulated in so far that you can find yourself with a dodgy cheap battery that might over-charge and catch fire, or buy e-liquid that is contaminated with you don't know what. That's why I prefer to mix my own e-liquid, and source it from pharmaceutically and food-tested sources. There is always the chance too that children might be attracted by chocolate-flavoured e-liquid and think it is confectionery, when in fact drinking pure nicotine is deadly poisonous.

Because it is unregulated, the EU are proposing to bring in consumer-protection laws for e-cigarettes. This could be a good thing, as long as it doesn't hike up the price of vapeing, or go so far (as has been suggested) as classifying them as pharmaceutical products that can only be dispensed at the Apotheke.

From personal experience, if you are a tobacco smoker and you have unsuccessfully  tried everything to quit, then check out e-cigarettes and similar products. I haven't missed tobacco one bit since I switched, and I am definitely feeling the health benefits (and wealth benefits).

In Berlin I can recommend the Steam Store on Bornholmer Str. , just off Schönhauser Alle. It is small and friendly, have great customer service, and stock a range of high-quality products that are also available on-line.

I use the Totally Wicked online website as well (great range of flavoring concentrates), which also has UK and USA websites and a lot of affiliate shops selling their products around the three countries.

If you want an easy introduction, then check out the eGo-C Starter Set. Yes, it might sound expensive at nearly 56 €, but it will instantly get you vapeing until you find your way around the market and experiment with other products. And consider how long 56 € would last you if you continued buying packets of cigarettes at your current rate. Finally, factor in how much lung cancer or emphysema would cost you in the long run.

Happy vapeing!


  1. Andie, big congrats on nearly 8 months tobacco-free, and thanks for this interesting summary of the smoking scene in the last few years in Berlin. I remember going to Rome for vacation in December of 2006 and marveling at the difference. The Italians complied to the absolute letter of their non-smoking law. It made being in public spaces a joy. Soon after, Italian health researchers began to show the positive effects on public health in terms of less emergency cardiac hospitalisations. Imagine!

    I also remember clearly when the wonderful minister of health in Spain, Leire Pajín, began on January 2, 2011, to enforce Spain public no-smoking law, with a ten thousand euro fine to establishments caught with anyone smoking on the premises. From one day to the next, all smokers were huddled outside in the cold, just like I was used to in California.

    It is really quite simple. Giving smoking bans teeth is all it takes.

  2. i can recommend the onlineshop .


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