German court partially overturns smoking ban

July 30, 2008 8:21:55 AM PDT
Germany's highest court partially overturned bans on smoking in bars Wednesday, ruling that states must either ban smoking in all restaurants and pubs or offer exceptions for single-room establishments.Smoking laws in German bars are set individually by each of the 16 states. A patchwork of legislation has taken effect across the country - traditionally one of western Europe's more nicotine-friendly nations - over the past year.

Most states allow larger establishments to cordon off separate rooms for their smoking patrons. But the Federal Constitutional Court in Karlsruhe ruled that practice is unconstitutional, because it discriminates against smaller establishments.

The court was ruling on appeals brought by owners of one-room pubs in two states, Berlin and southwestern Baden-Wuerttemberg, but the court ordered all states to review their laws.

It gave state parliaments until the end of 2009 either to ban smoking entirely or to create new exceptions for one-room bars - some of whose owners have complained that bans have prompted their regular customers to stay away.

In the meantime, one-room pubs can allow patrons to light up again - provided they broadcast their smoke-friendly status and turn away people under 18, the legal age to buy cigarettes.

Sylvia Thimm - the owner of Doors, a one-room Berlin pub, and one of the plaintiffs - welcomed the decision. "I am satisfied all around," she said.

Still, small bars may be forced to ban smoking anew if states address the ruling by banning smoking more uniformly - as nonsmoking advocates hope.