Schmidt faces charges for defying smoking ban

Helmut Schmidt, Germany's 89-year-old former chancellor and its most renowned and inveterate nicotine addict, became the first prominent victim of his country's new anti-smoking laws yesterday and faced the prospect of court action for lighting up in public.

Mr Schmidt and Loki, his 88-year-old wife, are well known in Germany for their chain-smoking. The ex-chancellor even has a weekly interview column in the respected Die Zeit magazine entitled "A Cigarette with Helmut Schmidt".

The couple attended a new year reception at a theatre in their home town of Hamburg only days after Germany's ban on public smoking was introduced on 1 January. As guests of honour, the Schmidts were provided with ashtrays as soon as they sat down.

Photographs of Mr and Mrs Schmidt drawing heavily on cigarettes and clearly enjoying their smoke at the theatre were plastered across the mass-circulation Bild newspaper the next day. In Germany, such a flagrant breach of the law was bound to have consequences.

Yesterday they arrived in the form of a declaration by Hamburg state prosecutors that they were investigating the Schmidts on suspicion of causing "bodily harm" to other guests at the theatre and of being in breach of the city state's ban on smoking in public places.

The case against the Schmidts was brought by the anti-smoking lobby group, Non Smoker's Initiative. Roland Keiser, the group's spokesman, said: "Their illegal behaviour was encouraged by the theatre which provided them with ashtrays despite the ban on smoking."

Helmut Schmidt's office declined to comment. The former Social Democrat chancellor is one of Germany's elder statesmen. He invariably lights up when interviewed on television.

A somewhat irritated spokesman for the Hamburg state prosecutor's office said: "Here is a prime example of the kind of thing that prosecutors have to deal with. In our country anybody can bring charges against anyone."

If convicted of causing bodily harm, the Schmidts could face a fine or a maximum five-year prison term. However, full enforcement of Hamburg's smoking ban is not due to start until February, so the Schmidts were not expected to be fined a statutory €100 (£74) for defying the new law.

The case marked the latest attempt to flout Germany's controversial and unpopular ban on smoking now at least nominally in force in 10 of the country's 16 federal states. However, as most of the states have said that they will allow pubs and restaurants a six-month grace period before enforcing the rule, the ban is being widely ignored. More than 30 per cent of Germans smoke. In Berlin, a city with a rebellious streak, some bars have rigidly enforced the rule while others have made a point of deliberately flouting it, putting up signs outside warning that to enter is "life threatening" because everyone inside is smoking.

Leaders of the Jewish community protested after pro-smoking activists produced T-shirts bearing yellow Star of David badges with the word "smoker" written across them, suggesting that the prohibition was similar to the Nazi persecution of the Jews.

Opponents of the new laws have also pointed out that the Nazis were in fact the first to oppose smoking in Germany when, as part of their attempt to produce an Aryan "master race", they tried to introduce a nationwide tobacco ban.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Home Care / Support Workers

£7 - £10 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This care provider is looking for Home ...

Recruitment Genius: Web Team Leader

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the UK's leading web des...

Recruitment Genius: Client Manager

£27000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A growing, successful, friendly...

Recruitment Genius: Property Negotiator - OTE £20,000+

£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This family owned, independent ...

Day In a Page

The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
Compton Cricket Club

Compton Cricket Club

Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

It helps a winner keep on winning
Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'