B onn, Germany … [ANN] Seventh-day Adventist Church health experts and leaders expressed disappointment at the German Parliament’s vote on Thursday, February 5, not to ban smoking in public places. After a long debate preceded by intense lobbying by the tobacco industry, the Parliament voted by 326 to 256 to defeat the proposal that would have imposed a ban on smoking in public.

"We regret this vote by Parliament," said Dr. Lothar Erbenich, a physician specializing in Internal Medicine at the Adventist-run Walfriede Hospital in Berlin. "Germany is the last country in Western Europe not to have such controls of smoking in public. Smoking is one of the most serious threats to health, and for the government not to take such action is deplorable."

Commenting on the implications of the decision, Reinhard Rupp, president of the Adventist Church in Northern Germany, likened the failure to ban public smoking to a major national disaster.

"Year after year, 100,000 active and 400 passive smokers are killed in Germany by tobacco," said Rupp. "What if all these victims of tobacco had been killed in a single catastrophic accident on one day? The German nation and the world would be shocked and horrified. The members of Parliament chose to close their eyes and not see what could have been prevented by this law. Instead of taking a stand for better health, especially for children and young people, they showed themselves much more willing to follow the arguments of the tobacco industry."

Herr Seehofer, the German Minister of Health, had been elected on a platform of health protection. It was very disappointing to see him taking the lead against this law, said Rupp.

Speaking for the Adventist Church at the local level, district pastor Stephan Brass, minister of three churches in the Osnabruck area, said that the decision would signal acceptance of smoking by the authorities, and made smoking a "tolerated social activity."

"This means a green light for those who smoke in public, and another barrier in the way of those who wish to quit," said Brass. "I have just finished conducting a smoking cessation program sponsored by my church, and know how difficult it is for some to give up the habit. To try to quit and yet be surrounded by those who are smoking in public places will make it much harder. Add to that the dangers of ‘passive smoking’ (inhaling the smoke from others), and this is a really sad vote."

Adventists have actively promoted smoking cessation for more than 130 years and were the first to devise a scientifically-based stop smoking program called "the Five-Day Plan," now know as "Breathe Free." Smoking is identified as the number one preventable cause of death in most western nations. [Jonathan Gallagher]