TSmoking ban, price increases and deterrent images on the pack: more than one in four adults in Germany continues to smoke regularly – even though the health consequences are well known. According to estimates, 127,000 people die every year in Germany as a result of tobacco consumption. In order to get more people to quit, the World Health Organization created World No Tobacco Day in 1987, which takes place on May 31st every year.
This year, the German Cancer Aid and the Non-Smoking Action Alliance have put the World No Tobacco Day under the motto: “Who can turn tobacco into food?” The idea was that if you don’t smoke, you have more money available for healthy nutrition. After all, a pack of cigarettes now costs eight euros on average.
In addition to education about the long-term health effects, rising prices may be one of the reasons why the number of smokers has declined in recent decades. In 1950, half of the adult population in Germany still smoked, according to data from the Allensbach Institute for Demoscopy. In the meantime, their share has shrunk to 26 percent. Contrary to the general downward trend, there has been a brief increase in smokers in the past Corona years.
World No Tobacco Day: Why smoking is still hot
The vast majority of smokers started in adolescence. The fact that young people reach for cigarettes is explained by the desire for “coolness” and peer pressure. It could also play a role that tobacco use feels “mature” or represents a rebellion against parents who advise against it because of the major health risks – such as oral cancer. Ever since the dangers of cigarette smoking became increasingly undeniable since the mid-20th century, the tobacco industry has begun to portray smoking as something daring, adventurous and non-conformist – something done by people who are not afraid of risk and danger, independent and strong.
E-cigarettes and tobacco heaters are also becoming increasingly popular. They are considered by some to be a supposedly healthier alternative to cigarettes. According to the “German survey on smoking behavior” (DEBRA), e-cigarettes and tobacco heaters are used by around five percent of smokers in Germany. However, they are suspected of making young people increasingly dependent on nicotine again and encouraging them to smoke tobacco cigarettes.
How to quit smoking
In the meantime, a large number of methods and aids have been established to help you quit smoking. They range from cold turkey to nicotine chewing gum to seminars and behavioral therapy interventions. A particular challenge are the ravenous hunger attacks that often occur in the withdrawal phase after the last fag. Relaxation techniques or nicotine replacement products can help here.
Popular tips and tricks for quitting cigarettes include telling friends and acquaintances about the plan in order to expose yourself to a certain pressure of expectations. Exercise can act as a substitute drug and also counteract the weight gain that quitting can cause. It is also helpful to visualize your progress and to reward yourself in a targeted manner – for example by clearly collecting the money you have saved in a glass and treating yourself to something nice with it.
And it can actually work: one of the authors of this text awaited the employer’s move to a new building and neighborhood that coincided with the start of a new year – resolution motivates, work distracts, and the new environment lacks previous ones key stimuli. Colleagues who were in the know motivated and created the right amount of expectation pressure, and a new environment in which the nearest cigarette machine in the neighborhood and the smoking corner on the site were not yet on the mental map was also helpful.
Nicotine gum helped to get through the worst cravings, and after an initial heavy use, it wasn’t difficult to gradually replace it with regular, nicotine-free gum over the course of a few weeks. In order to get your mind off things, series binge-watching after work also helped in the first few days – although it is not advisable to watch series in which the actors smoke.
That’s why it’s so hard to quit smoking
If it doesn’t work for you at first, you’re not alone: Quitting smoking is extremely difficult. Nicotine is one of the most addictive substances of all. This is shown by the high recidivism rates: With cold turkey, less than five percent succeed in quitting the cigarette. Even with aids such as motivational books, nicotine gum or professional seminars, the recidivism rate is up to 80 percent. Quitting without one or more recurrences is therefore rarely the case, which may explain why the wisdom circulates among ex-smokers that quitting is easy and that the real difficulty is in not starting again.
Mark Twain also stated this in a much-quoted sentence: “Quitting smoking is child’s play. I’ve done it a hundred times.” But there’s good news for those who relapse: Smokers who’ve already had one failed quit attempt have a better chance of making it the next time — but only if they don’t use that realization as an excuse to do so use to break off their attempts prematurely.
Various measures are being discussed to prevent people from even starting to use tobacco. The Non-Smoking Action Alliance, for example, is calling for an increase in tobacco tax and a complete ban on cigarette advertising on the occasion of Non-Smoking Day. Tobacco advertising was first legally regulated in Germany in 1975. At that time, cigarette advertising was banned on television and radio. Further regulations on sponsorship of television events (1999) and advertising in cinemas (2003) followed. Since 2022, tobacco products may no longer be advertised at bus stops.
When it comes to the regulation of advertising and sponsorship of the tobacco industry, however, Germany comes off quite poorly in a European comparison. This is the result of the “Tobacco Control Index”: For the year 2021, Germany ranks 34th out of 37. Ireland and Great Britain are the frontrunners. Tobacco advertising is subject to particularly strict controls there – for example, manufacturers there are not allowed to print their logos on cigarette packs.
The level of tobacco tax should also be used as an incentive to reduce consumption. The government last decided to increase the nicotine tax in 2022. The tax now accounts for around 50 percent of the price of a cigarette. In 2021, this brought the German state revenues of 14.67 billion euros.