Global Observer

In Germany, smoking breaks may get the ax

In Germany, smoking breaks may get the ax

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BERLIN -- German companies stand up against what they see as a costly habit, bringing the relationship between productivity and overall employee satisfaction to bear.

BERLIN -- Germany could see smoking breaks banned in the workplace if certain mid-sized business representatives have their way.

Two major lobbying groups for German employers called for an end to a practice they say hampers workplace productivity and effectively costs companies money.

"We have to put a stop to lighting up during work hours," Mario Ohoven, president of the BVMW association of German medium-sized businesses, told the country's largest daily Bild. "Smoking breaks cost businesses real money and disturb the daily workflow."

"Extra breaks for smokers must be eliminated," Ursula Frerichs of the UMW association of mid-sized businesses said. "It's not fair that non-smokers are punished."

Some proponents of the ban pointed to Sweden's model, under which many companies have designated work hours as "smoke-free". Others say smoking breaks should only be allowed during lunch breaks, before and after work hours.

Opponents warned against reverse discrimination and workplace backlash, however, with workers' union representatives quick to respond.

Such an initiative "would hardly contribute to a good atmosphere in companies," Martina Perreng from the DGB trade union federation said to TheLocal.de.

"I'm for strict protective measures for non-smokers in the workplace," Social Democratic Party (SPD) health expert Karl Lauterbach told Bild.

"But a smoking ban on short breaks standing outside the door would be hugely discriminatory - and a step in the direction of a non-smoking dictatorship."

Lauterbach's reference to a "non-smoking dictatorship" was not the first of its kind. Smoking bans instated throughout Germany since 2006 have been met with comparisons to the anti-tobacco movement of the Nazis by ban opponents. A sort of civil rebellion among bar-going citizens and establishment owners, as well as legislative loopholes, saw the bans only loosely enforced in the end.

Journalist Niels Kruse from German magazine Stern also responded to the calls, arguing that mid-sized companies are thinking in out-dated terms and using smokers as scapegoats. He said numerous studies show the productive benefits of "as much freedom as possible, and only as much mandate as is necessary" in the workplace, citing Google as a real-world example.

Although the BDA association of German employers says each individual company is responsible for dealing with the issue internally, federal German parliament members have said they are working on blanket legislation that would clarify and strengthen existing anti-smoking laws.

Photo: Flickr/shnnn

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Shannon Smith

Correspondent (Berlin)

Shannon N. Smith has written for WNYC's The Takeaway and TheLocal.de. She holds a degree from the University of Texas at Austin. She is based in Berlin, Germany. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure