Smoking in Germany: Age limits, rates and rules

Smoking in Germany: Age limits, rates and rules

by Anne-Lise Vassoille

Updated September 26, 2023

Did you know that Germany has a higher-than-average rate of smokers, relative to other European countries? In an attempt to reduce that number, the federal government has increased taxes on cigarettes and introduced more regulations over the last few decades. In addition, federal states often add their own regulations that restrict smoking to an even greater extent. So, whether you want to stay away from smoke-filled venues or figure out where to buy your next pack of cigarettes, let’s explore the rules for smoking in Germany. 

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What’s the rate of smoking in Germany?

According to Eurostat data from 2019, more than 20% of the German population smokes. This percentage is significantly higher than the European average. Unfortunately, this comes with a heavy price tag for the healthcare system in Germany. Just how bad is the problem? A 2021 study by researchers at the Technical University of Munich and the Robert Koch Institute in Berlin estimated that about 80% of all lung cancer cases in Germany can be attributed to smoking.

There are at least a couple of possible causes for the high number of German smokers. On the one hand, Germany’s taxes on cigarettes are among the lowest in Europe, even accounting for their incremental increases over the last few decades. This means that smoking is relatively cheap in Germany, compared to other European countries. 

On the other hand, the national attitude around cigarettes and electronic cigarettes (otherwise known as “vapes”) remains fairly lax. For example, Germany remains the sole country in the European Union (EU) in which tobacco advertising is allowed on billboards. Let’s look at the German smoking laws in more detail.

What are the rules around smoking in Germany?

At the federal level, there are several smoking laws that apply nationwide. 

Passed in 2007, the Jugendschutzgesetz (Protection of Young Persons Act) aimed at protecting minors from potentially harmful or addictive activities. In particular, it set age restrictions on the sale and consumption of tobacco and cigarettes, as well as on alcohol, games and other types of media deemed potentially harmful. 

Working together with the Jugendschutzgesetz is the Gesetz zum Schutz vor den Gefahren des Passivrauchens (Act for the Prevention of Danger by Passive Smoking), which set the legal smoking age in Germany at 18. In effect, this law makes it illegal for anyone younger than 18 to buy tobacco products or to smoke in public. It also stipulates where cigarette vending machines are allowed to be set up and whether they need an identification system.

Another 2007 law, the Bundesnichtraucherschutzgesetz (Federal Non-Smokers Protection Act), implemented a smoking ban inside federal institutions and government buildings, as well as on public transport and at public transport stations, except in designated smoking rooms. Breaking this law may result in fines ranging from 5 to 1,500 euros.

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As long as they comply with these federal laws, each of the 16 German states has some leverage to institute their own regulations on smoking. Some states are tougher than others. Bavaria is among the strictest; it’s simply forbidden to smoke inside all bars and restaurants. By comparison, Berlin is more lenient. For instance, you can smoke in bars that are smaller than 75 square meters or that only serve customers in a single room. 

Where can you purchase cigarettes and vapes in Germany?

If you happen to be a smoker, you won’t have a hard time finding cigarettes, rolling tobacco or vapes in Germany. You can buy them at supermarkets, gas stations and tobacco shops. You can also get some at cigarette vending machines, as long as you have an ID proving that you’re over 18.

The average box contains 20 cigarettes. It’s actually unlawful to sell any tobacco product in a package with less than 19 cigarettes or 30 grams of loose, fine-cut tobacco. The purpose is to prevent the selling of loose cigarettes. This is the reason why retailers are not allowed to destroy a tax strip on tobacco packaging.

In spite of the relatively low prices for a pack of cigarettes, the black market has expanded. According to a 2020 report by KPMG, Germany is the second-largest market for illicit tobacco trade among the EU member states, with an estimated 200 million illicit cigarettes consumed in 2020.

There’s no smoke without rules

Even with increasing taxes and regulations, smoking remains more common in Germany than in most other European countries. As long as you’re over 18, you’re allowed to buy tobacco products. And while federal laws have made it illegal to smoke in public places and on public transportation nationwide, you may find that certain federal states have introduced more exceptions than others.

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Anne-Lise Vassoille

Anne-Lise is a translator and copywriter working for various industries… Settled down in London, she cannot get enough of the exceptional cultural life in the English capital city, starting with theater, be it to see a new West End show or to roll up her sleeves with her amateur drama group. She is also interested in photography, as her Instagram profile shows. She indulges her passion for languages in a translation blog she writes with other linguist friends. Go to her Linkedin page to know more about her background and her professional experience.

Anne-Lise Vassoille
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