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Germany: bogus polls and the Euro-pain syndrome
  1. David Simpson

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    More news from Germany, tobacco rent-a-nation of the European Union (EU), where the fight by industry interests against relatively small health forces continues to produce some extraordinary anomalies in a country so long at the forefront of technological progress. In December, the German tobacco trade journal Tabakzeitung gleefully announced the results of a poll carried out last year, apparently showing that only 6% of adult Germans backed a tobacco advertising ban, whereas three times that number had backed one just a year earlier. It said almost half of Germans did not want to see any changes to advertising regulations, a dramatic increase in acceptance since 1999, when only 30% shared this opinion.

    German health advocates tried to obtain the questionnaire used in the poll, but the reputable research company declined on the grounds of client confidentiality, confirming that it had been privately commissioned, presumably by the tobacco industry.

    The tobacco industry may have hoped that the new poll findings would help its case at an important World Health Organization inter-ministerial conference on tobacco held in Warsaw in February. Perhaps it did indeed provide further justification for the German government's already well established hostility to an ad ban, though the reason cited by the German delegation in Warsaw, which kept pulling furiously on the handbrake as other, exasperated nations pressed for a strong `Warsaw Declaration for a Tobacco-Free Europe', was that it would violate Germany's constitution.

    Health advocates say several large Mercedes trucks could be driven side by side through the gaps in this argument. More to the point, they note that as long ago as 1997 the German health ministry included questions on attitudes to a tobacco advertising ban in a regular health ministry survey of a representative sample of some 8000 German residents aged 18–59 years. Compared to the new poll in the industry journal, the results told a very different story. The majority in the health ministry survey, around 6 out of 10, favoured an ad ban. Furthermore, a survey commissioned by a television station five years ago, and conducted by the same researchers used by Tabakzeitung, found that even then, two thirds of adults favoured an ad ban.

    Since 1997, there has been a significant increase in publicity about the disastrous toll of smoking on German people's health, and about outrageous tobacco industry activities to maintain business as usual; so, if anything, it might be expected that approval for anti-tobacco measures would have increased. Unfortunately, and perhaps not accidentally, when the health ministry repeated its survey recently, tobacco advertising was not among the topics addressed in the attitudinal questions. How much longer the government favours tobacco advertising over the interests of public health remains to be seen; but those returning to Bonn surely cannot have failed to report the desperate sense of frustration generated in Warsaw by their government's stubborn and unwavering loyalty to the tobacco industry.