I don't profess to be militant anti-smoker but even I can appreciate the definite advantages of the recent smoking ban here in Berlin. As of the 1st of January it has been my pleasure to escape the commonplace problem of leaving a favorite bar/cafe/restaurant feeling as though a good long walk to and from the subway would help me "air out" before going home. Then upon reaching home, feeling the need to hang my coat out on the balcony because putting on a freezing cold and possibly stiff leather coat in the morning is much preferred to one that smells like an ashtray.
What most Americans (and many Germans) don't understand is that in American public spots there are rules governing how much the air turnover must be within an allotted time. These rules keep bar owners on their toes making sure that the place is well-ventilated. Unfortunately most of the German bars/restaurants/cafes are in old buildings which don't lend themselves well to the whole air circulation factor, thus the air in most of these places is always MUCH nastier than even the smokiest American location.
The next reason for the disagreeable smoke issue is the simple fact that more Germans smoke than Americans. As you may know smoking is one of the leading causes of statistics, and of course I have some for ya... around 19% of Americans enjoy lighting up the penis-shaped cancer stick, while 34% of Germans favor getting their oral gratification from the coffin nail... almost twice as many!!!
Since the beginning of the year I've been keeping an eye on the people around me in public locations. There was the Italian restaurant close to the office that actually provided an ashtray for a group of well-dressed men who were smoking cigars and cigarettes as they sat in what was obviously a stammtisch situation (not easily translated into English, but let's just say that they hang out in that restaurant enough to be considered "regulars" and so get special allownaces - in Germany this can be extended into having their favorite table saved for them... and it seems to also include smoking privileges).
When I went to the always edgy Prenzlauer Berg White Trash Fast Food there was no big surprise to see a few people lighting up, but through the whole evening I think I saw three people resisting the new rule. While I noticed that the wait staff didn't put out ashtrays, I have no idea if anything was said to the rebels. There was however a steady stream of people leaving the restaurant only to return a few minutes later... I assume they were getting some "fresh air" if you know what I mean.
Just last weekend we popped our heads into the quite famous Melitta Sundström for a meeting with "No Nickname Guy" and Adam of "That Queer Expatriate". I say it that way... popped our heads in... because in the years we've been going to this place I think I can say with authority we've only been inside once or twice to pee out the lovely drinks we were consuming on the sidewalk. As I remember, even this was almost too much smoke. My first ever time inside I had trouble finding the toilet because the sign was at such a height that the layer of smoke was obscuring it. We did sit down and have a drink but unfortunately the place still has that stench of years of cigarette build-up, hopefully they do a little renovation in the next few months.
That same evening we checked out Schwuz which is a dance/concert/bar underneath the Melitta Sundström. It was my first time there, but I was not disappointed with my expectation of low ceilings and slightly wild clientèle. What I knew immediately was that there were smokers somewhere... and they were... all holed up in one of the back rooms. When we walked into the room as we checked out the whole bar, it didn't take long to decide two things... one, this is the smoking room... and two, let's get the hell out of this room. What was funny about Schwuz was that they kept a frequent stream of that fake fog used for concerts and whatnot. I bet that they "fogged" the room we were in about once every ten minutes. It was almost like the lack of smoke was not a good thing... maybe it messed with the light show or something. Truth be told, I hated the fake fog almost as much as I dislike cigarette smoke.
When I think about the government regulating smoking something also sticks in my craw (do people still talk like that... they must, eh). Isn't it reasonable that privately-owned establishments can and should be able to make the decision to offer a non-smoking alternative without the hand of law stepping in? Couldn't free enterprise be counted on to lead such entrepreneurs in the direction which most people are flowing? I personally would never have gone inside Melitta Sundström with the intention of staying there for any length of time before the smoking ban... if this means that we don't visit the place in the winter... then in a way I think of that as voting with my feet. Perhaps someone could open a non-smoking place in hopes to draw my kind of people without being told by the governments that they MUST provide this non-smoking environment to protect my health.
I guess that while I enjoy the idea that my favorite places to go are now smoke-free... I think it should be up to the business owner. Let's be realistic, there are cigarette ads all over Berlin. The movie house shows at least one ad before the main movie cluing me in to how wonderful it is to be a Marlboro man... This was quite strange to me until I thought about it... The anti-tobacco lobby had taken care of print and video ads showing tobacco when I was still a kid. They've been working on this for years.
OK, OK... before the hate mail arrives, I am not disputing the negative impacts of smoking on the human body. I need only speak to my 74 year old Mother as she sucks on her oxygen bottle on a short but necessary break between Marlboros to see what damage can be done to the human body by smoking... But drinking is bad for me too... as is eating french fries... and coloring my hair... and driving instead of riding a bike... and chocolate... how could they continue to allow me to consume chocolate?
How long will it be before some government body takes away my pleasure in a fresh hot serving of french fries...? Oh wait, they've started that... the vegetable oil which has consistently made the best fries and fried chicken for years is now being changed slowly restaurant by restaurant as they go to a soybean-based oil which gets rid of dangerous trans-fats. Sorry, but it just doesn't taste the same.
The war on tobacco is well-funded and supported by lots of government officials that feel this is one step they can take to appease their people... but are they making these changes at the cost of more of our civil liberties being taken away... and is that really a good thing?
Now gimmie my french fries and no one gets hurt!