Ban on tobacco advertising: Consumer Protection Commissioner Mechthild Heil responds to our open letter
In an open letter to the federal government, we demanded a ban on tobacco advertising. Mechthild Heil, Consumer Protection Commissioner of the CDU/CSU answered it on behalf of the entire parliamentary group. As announced in our open letter, we publish all correspondence:
Dear Mr. Brinker,
Thanks for your letter of enquiry. Although I was not explicitly addressed personally, I would be happy to respond and try to explain our motives.
Of course, smoking is injurious to health, which is a fact that no one can deny today. The German government has taken up the education about and prevention of smoking through different projects and the support of private initiatives. These efforts have appreciable success, as can be seen in the current drug report from the Drug Commissioner. Tobacco consumption by both men and women has declined since 2003. An even more significant decrease was recorded in case of the 12- to 17 – year olds and 18- to 25-year-old young adults.
You have mentioned the comprehensive advertising bans on tobacco products contained in Article 13 of the FCTC (Editor’s note: In the WHO Treaty, a complete ban on tobacco advertising was called for). Germany has already severely limited and regulated the advertising of tobacco products (Editor’s Note: Germany and Bulgaria are the last countries in the EU, where tobacco advertising is allowed). The government relies on voluntary restrictions by the industry sectors concerned. We focus on education and prevention, a ban can only be the last step and should be considered carefully. Currently, there are deliberations in the Ministry of Agriculture in this direction.
I’m a non-smoker and do not want to be “puffed away” by other citizens. Yet I see a danger here for the call for further advertising bans: alcohol, chocolate or chips could be the next “casualties”. That’s not the way we want to go.
Ms. Heil received this reply from us:
Dear Ms. Heil,
First of all, thanks for your feedback, which you have sent on behalf of the CDP parliamentary group.
As a network of future physicians, we find it very disturbing and strange that as the consumer protection division of the CDU/CSU, you are drawing comparisons between fast addictive drugs and foods like chips or chocolate.
I am not aware of any study on the comparison of the harm caused by smoking and unhealthy diet. However, the difference is obvious: the smoke from each cigarette contains more than 4,000 toxic and carcinogenic substances – so cigarettes differ clearly from hamburgers or other unhealthy foods. No consumer product is as harmful as cigarettes per se; every cigarette harms the health. Food products can in contrast –in the long run – have only an unhealthy composition (too much fat, too much sugar, too little vitamins / trace elements, high energy density, colors, flavors, etc.), but are still food. Consuming unbalanced food is only in total unhealthy, if consumed repeatedly and in excess, for a long time. Food products are just food – unlike cigarettes – food. Therefore, a food item from the deep fat fryer cannot be compared with the consumption of a pack of cigarettes. If you want to make such comparisons, you could perhaps be more likely to say that the consumption of a completely charred steak or the consumption of moldy bread could correspond to smoking a cigarette, as charred and moldy foods contain carcinogenic substances.
Also, it is not understandable, that you fear an alcohol ban so much, that you disagree with a complete ban on tobacco advertising. Are you really acting in the interest of consumers? Or are a few industrialists not profiting from your attitude while millions of people in Germany suffer from incurable diseases caused by these drugs? Who, in Germany, has an interest in the advertising of these addictive drugs for the youth? Parents? Teachers? Schools? Doctors? The general population? The nearly 140 000 tobacco related deaths every year in Germany? Or their families? Or maybe only the tobacco firms, as well as the politicians and parties, who receive generous presents from this drug industry and individual owners of advertising companies?
Since there are, internationally, complete bans on tobacco advertising and Germany together with Bulgaria is an exception within the EU, we request examples related to other advertising prohibitions feared by you in the rest (remainder) of the EU.
Because you have made reference to the WHO FCTC: As per our knowledge of the international law, you have committed, as has the Federal Government, a breach of contract, because you have not enforced and do not want to enforce complete tobacco advertising prohibitions as well as numerous other articles of the FCTC, in spite of drafting and ratification . We request a clarification of these facts.
As you have also justified the striking passivity of Germany in tobacco control, that the federal government invests in prevention and education projects, please quantify the amount of annual federal spending on scientifically validated educational projects against smoking and name these projects. We were, as a Germany-wide network, which educates 20,000 students annually, once endowed with the 5,000 Euro Federal prize by the Chancellor and are very interested in further education funding.
We know from the publications of the German Center for Cancer Research, that nearly 1 billion Euros are invested annually in Germany by tobacco companies for marketing -total expenditure- to gain new customers and this stands in the way of our support. We invite the Federal Republic and you especially, to know the old customers who are to be replaced, in the German University clinics and to ask for their opinion on a complete ban on tobacco advertising
Furthermore, we request the disclosure of all direct and indirect political contributions/financing of the tobacco firms to the CDU, and their members in the past election years. We shall be posing the same queries to the other government-forming parties. We would also like to examine the visit of members of the federal government in general, as well as the CDU with lobby events of tobacco companies with special entertainment, so-called Liberty Awards and free dinners/hotels/travel.
We are trying to understand, why at the cost of public health and the youth in Germany, the federal government ensures that we are the last in the EU, along with Austria, in the implementation of WHO agreements on tobacco (Joosens & Raw, 2014). From your e-mail, a plausible reason does not emerge from our point of view.
Thanks for your response. With cordial greetings,
In representation of and in coordination with more than 700 medical students and doctors of Education against Tobacco e.V.“