Banning Tobacco Advertising: an Open Letter to the Federal Government
From: Titus Brinker (EAT Founder and Chair)
Open Letter to German Chancellor Dr Angela Merkel and all officials whom it may concern
CC: All Parliamentary Parties
Subject: Ban on Tobacco Advertising in Germany
To the Honorable Federal Chancellor and all officials whom it may concern
My name is Titus Brinker, I am a medical student in my 10th semester of study and the chairperson of Education Against Tobacco (EAT), an organization engaging over 700 medical students and doctors from almost all the medical faculties in Germany, whose aim is to reduce the prevalence of smoking amongst adolescents.
For around four years now, we have been raising awareness amongst school students about the dangers of smoking in an age-targeted way. This initiative was recognized with the Bundespreis at the beginning of June 2014 by you, Chancellor Merkel, as the patron of the Startsocial Initiative Scholarship, for which we feel very honored, and once again wish to extend our thanks.
It’s gained our attention however, that our actions will never be as effective in changing the smoking habits and attitudes of our society, compared to what instituting a complete ban of tobacco advertising would achieve. A volunteer-based project like EAT, even with funding and support from a 5000 euro worth national prize, will never stand a chance against the billions of euros spent on marketing expenses by the tobacco industry in Germany each year.
Almost every school bus stop in Germany is covered with cigarette ads, which promote the association of positive images, like a romantic kiss or a guitar player by a campfire, with smoking. Through such classic conditioning the media is subtly conveying to young people, that cigarettes contribute to positive life experiences. This is an untruth, which we regularly see take its toll both during our medical studies, and even more later as doctors. Around 6.3 million people in Germany suffer from chronic lung cancer. From reference texts and in our relevant studies, we learn that more than 90% of these so called chronically obstructive lung diseases are caused by smoking. In the case of lung cancer, this number falls between 90-95%. Smoking is the largest preventable cause of death in Germany.
It’s often argued that every person should have the right to decide for themselves, whether or not they take up smoking. We’re not arguing against this right to decide, but we believe that these sorts of decisions should always be informed decisions, made based on differentiated information and full awareness of the consequences of smoking. But when we take into account the massive subtle manipulation of individuals, especially adolescents, through cigarette advertisements, we can no longer talk about right of choice. Instead of being presented with a differentiated and scientific picture of the dimensions of nicotine addiction, the young citizens of our society are being manipulated with untruths. When a smoking habit starts, it’s not long before the freedom of choice is taken away by one’s own addiction.
Germany is the last country in the EU, in which cinema advertising past 6pm and outdoor advertising for tobacco products is not subject to any restrictions. We’re writing to ask you to help prevent massive spread of untruths through tobacco advertising, and to speak out for us and with us, for a ban on cigarette advertising. This manipulation unfortunately affects the most vulnerable groups of our society. Children and adolescents from lower social classes are, according to current studies, particularly prone to influence by tobacco ads.
In 2003 Germany signed the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, which came into action in 2005. Under Article 14 of this international treaty, the federal Government committed to a complete advertising ban. The current TCS-data on the implementation of these measures show that Germany is actually on the second last place in the list of progress (Joosens & Raw, 2014). We ask you to address the issue of why these contracts for tobacco control under international law are not being upheld by our federal government.
We ask you, Chancellor Merkel, and all other officials concerned whom we address in this letter, to take action on this issue that we are openly documenting. In the case of no response from you to our concerns, we would still like to maintain transparency for the purpose of public documentation.
We thank you for your consideration of our letter.
Thank you and kind regards,
Titus J. Brinker
Democratically and legally on behalf of the 700 and counting involved medical students and doctors of Education Against Tobacco (EAT) from 27 faculties in Germany