The myth of the 75 sqm rule

30.06.2009 When it comes to non-smoker protection, there is no number that is bandied about as often as the figure of 75 square metres stipulated by the Federal Constitutional Court, which, according to the ruling, is intended to save “small” corner pubs, whose majority customers are smokers, from going under. So far, so good.

Less good is if you take a closer look at the 75 square metres. Where does the figure come from, why this particular figure and how big are corner pubs actually?
The first question about the origin of the figure is quickly answered: it is in the tobacco lobby’s position paper, which was waved through 1:1 in the Bundestag, even with the same spelling mistakes. It must come as a great surprise that even the judges of the Federal Constitutional Court take this figure as a benchmark without scrutinising it.

The second question, why this particular figure was used, reveals a skilful move by the tobacco lobby. Firstly, the 75 square metres refer to the pure guest area, i.e. toilets, kitchen and the space behind the bar must or may be deducted. This means that a 200 square metre establishment can quickly become a 75 square metre guest area. According to an internal study by the DeHoGa (German Hotel and Restaurant Association), around 80% of all pubs, bars and lounges fall under this 75 square metre rule if the pure guest area is taken into account. It is now clear why this figure was used, as it effectively gives a large proportion of the catering trade a free pass to use this regulation. For non-smokers, this normally means that at least eight out of 10 pubs are in reality defined as smoking pubs under the new law.

Calculated further, this means that of the 35% active smokers, of whom only half, i.e. roughly 12% of the population (16-64 years), who really insist on smoking everywhere, are allowed to choose at least 80% of all pubs in the evening, whereas over 80% of people who are either non-smokers or who, smokers themselves, would like to have smoke-free pubs, can only choose a maximum of 20% of all pubs in a city, as long as they do not want to harm others with their smoke or do not want to expose themselves to the dangerous passive smoke. who, as smokers themselves, would like to have smoke-free pubs, can only choose a maximum of 20% of all pubs in a city, provided they don’t want to harm others with their smoke or expose themselves to dangerous passive smoke. Is it really democratically fair for a minority to determine or influence where the vast majority may or may not go in the evening? Is this the freedom of choice that the FDP in particular talks about? Honestly – no, that’s perverse to say the least!

This also provides the answer to the third question. In Austria, small corner pubs are defined as having a maximum guest area of 50 square metres, including the bar area. In my own experiment, I asked eight operators of corner pubs in Kempten how big their pubs actually are. Seven out of eight were under 50 square metres, one was 60 square metres. So if you really want to protect the small corner pubs you should be honest and limit the regulation to a maximum total area of 60 square metres, which would be fair to the other pubs, bars and lounges, whose customers are unlikely to go to such a corner pub. It would also be honest if politicians admitted that the 75 square metre regulation is not intended to protect the corner pubs (because then the number would have been reduced and the 75 square metres would have been given as the total area), but rather to help give the minority of militant smokers (i.e. those who think they absolutely have to smoke everywhere) the maximum choice and to fob off the rest with the sentence: “If you don’t like it, you don’t have to go out”.

But politicians are too cowardly to do this and the catering trade and tobacco lobbies are still too powerful.