Influence on politicians: lobbyists want to use these tricks to save tobacco advertising

After much resistance, the CDU and CSU want to get through restricting tobacco advertising. But lobbyists confuse politicians with misleading allegations.

The advertising industry and the tobacco industry are trying hard to prevent a law that would abolish cigarette advertising on billboards. In the CDU / CSU parliamentary group, a letter to MPs causes unrest, which warns of a "total ban on tobacco advertising" and the SPIEGEL present. The authors are the managing directors of the Central Association of the German Advertising Industry (ZAW), the Brand Association and the Federation for Food Law and Food Science.

The Association of the German Smoking Tobacco Industry also puts pressure: In another, so-called Political Letter, he writes of a "total advertising ban" that is incompatible with the "Basic Law".

In the Union faction, these warnings have created uncertainty - especially for MPs who are not concerned with the issue. They fear that the new law could be unconstitutional. The claims are misleading. It's not about a "Totalwerbeverbot". And not to a "complete elimination of tobacco advertising," as the advertising lobbyists claim.

Although the negotiations within the CDU and CSU as well as with the coalition partner SPD aim at a ban on outdoor advertising for cigarettes, cigars, cigarillos and Co. on billboards and advertising pillars. However, allowed to remain:

  • Advertising in tobacco shops, petrol stations and other sales outlets
  • Cinema advertisement in front of certain films exclusively for adults (FSK 18)
  • the sponsorship of festivals and other events
  • the so-called brand stretching, the brand stretching, for example for camel boots
  • even free samples at the point of sale could be allowed.

"No health politician in Union dares to seriously tackle these issues, the internal party resistance would be too large," said an insider to the SPIEGEL. "The advertising and tobacco lobbyists know that. Nevertheless they paint the specter of total advertising ban on the wall." With the obvious aim of preventing the end of poster advertising.

The Central Association of the German Advertising Industry wants to know his letter differently understood. "For market-driven and competition-oriented corporate communication, the use of all media channels is fundamental," writes the association on request. "However, the other advertising bans currently in issue would, together with existing ones, deprive companies of the opportunity to target adult consumers outside the point of sale."

Sponsored bus stops with tobacco advertising

In fact, no country in the EU regulates tobacco advertising as laxly as the Federal Republic. Germany is the only member state in which cigarette companies are allowed to advertise their deadly products on billboards and advertising pillars.

Only in this country children and adolescents can still see cigarette advertising on their way to school. Although a study by the Kiel Institute for Therapy and Health Research shows that the sight of the posters increases the likelihood that minors will start smoking. And even though the Federal Government and Bundestag had already committed in 2004 to the World Health Organization to enact a "comprehensive ban on all forms of tobacco advertising" by 2010 at the latest.

The fact that the cigarette industry can still placard nine years later, it owes the Union - whose party has cofinanced for a long time. The CDU / CSU parliamentary group blocked under its former boss Volker Kauder with all sorts of pranks a far-reaching ban on outdoor advertising. In 2016, it even prevented a bill that the German government had already passed by Chancellor Merkel. Co-responsible were influential CDU local politicians. As SPIEGEL-research shows, these Unions-people, the advertising-sponsored bus stops with tobacco advertising are more important than the protection of minors.

Now the tobacco friend Kauder is disempowered, the new faction leader Ralph Brinkhaus wants to have the topic off the table. Federal Health Minister Jens Spahn (CDU) has made in SPIEGEL for a restriction of tobacco advertising strong. And the parliamentary group is now apparently willing to ban at least the outdoor advertising for cigarettes and other tobacco products for smoking. "The policy makers in the Union faction are largely in agreement: we want to implement the WHO Tobacco Framework Convention - and that 1: 1," said the deputy deputy leader Gitta Connemann. "We have agreed on the essential points."

But the lobbyists will not let up. Above all, the advertising association bosses have managed with their letter to unsettle Union parliamentarians. "A ban on the use of all media advertising by tobacco companies means [... ...] the de facto elimination of any communication options in the industry" and thus directly interfere with constitutionally protected freedom of expression and freedom of occupation, say the association representatives Manfred Parteina, Christian Köhler and Angelika Mrohs in her letter. They are keeping silent about the fact that cigarette manufacturers are allowed to advertise in shops or in the cinema. Instead, they add: "For this purpose, a legal opinion has been sent to you these days."

With this report, Germany's tobacco and advertising lobbyists peddle for years. Commissioned and probably also paid by the Central Association of the advertising industry. It was written by Christoph Degenhart, professor emeritus of the University of Leipzig. He claims that even a ban on outdoor advertising is unconstitutional.

"Protecting health takes precedence over commercial interests"

However, another report prepared by the independent scientific services of the German Bundestag after Degenhart's opinion comes to a completely different conclusion: A ban on poster advertising, cinema advertising and sponsorship is in line with the freedom of expression protected by the Basic Law as well as freedom of occupation the experts: "The overriding importance of protecting the health of the population, especially children and adolescents, takes precedence over commercial interests". Finally, the cigarette is "a particularly harmful product, which should not be allowed by today's standards."

The Association of Smoking Tobacco industry does not prevent this, now in its "Political Letter" to propagate: "A total advertising ban represents a violation of the fundamental market." And further: "Never before has communication been completely banned for a legally manufactured and distributed product." On request, the association explains: "There are political groups in Germany, which demand quite a total advertising ban."

However, tobacco lobbyists do not say in one word that not even the toughest supporters of restrictions on tobacco advertising in the Union want to negotiate a total advertising ban.

Rather, it looks like a minimum regulation. Thus, e-cigarettes could be completely excluded from the restrictions - this fight politicians of the CDU business wing. And CSU grandees demand that even so-called tobacco heaters can advertise boldly: about "iqos" by Philip Morris. The "Marlboro" manufacturer has its German headquarters in Gräfelfing near Munich.

At the end of the deal, a poster advertising ban on cigarettes, cigarillos and other conventional tobacco products could be left. If any. "We have to expect that there will be a ban on out-of-home advertising," said a few weeks ago, the head of a Germany-wide lobby of a major cigarette manufacturer. "But we've been counting on that for 20 years - and so far nothing has happened."

Because so far, the cigarette companies could always rely on their friends at the CDU and CSU.