A new study provides shocking results on the smoking behavior of young people in Germany. Their share has almost doubled within a year.

The number of young people smoking in Germany has clearly increased over the past year. The proportion of tobacco smokers among 14 to 17-year-olds has almost doubled – from 8.7 to 15.9 percent, as the “Spiegel” reported on Thursday. The magazine refers to the German survey on smoking behavior (DEBRA study).

Extrapolated, this means that there are around 200,000 more underage smokers than in 2021. Nicotine consumption also rose sharply among e-cigarettes and among young adults. In total, more than 400,000 minors in Germany smoke cigarettes, it was said. Since the start of the study in 2016, there has never been such a high rate of tobacco smoking among young people.

Study leader Daniel Kotz spoke of a frightening result. The professor for addiction research at the Institute for General Medicine at the University of Düsseldorf also explained that he suspected that the constant stress caused by the pandemic, war and crisis made many people reach for cigarettes.

Smoking rates among young people have fallen in recent decades. At the turn of the millennium, almost every fourth minor smoked, recently it was only ten percent. Now, however, the proportion of tobacco users has also increased among young adults: from 36 to almost 41 percent among 18 to 24 year olds. Overall, according to the DEBRA study, the proportion of smokers in the at least 14-year-old population in Germany has increased from 26.6 to 35.5 percent since 2020.

Federal Health Minister Karl Lauterbach (SPD) was appalled. “These study results are a very big cause for concern,” he told the “Spiegel”. Measures are needed for better protection of minors.

According to the information, more than 120,000 people die every year in Germany as a result of tobacco consumption. That is over 40 times as many as in road traffic or over 60 times as many as from heroin or other illegal drugs. It can be assumed that the rising consumption figures are also fueling the number of tobacco deaths. “The state must now intervene decisively,” emphasizes Daniel Kotz, head of the DEBRA study and professor for addiction research at the Institute for General Medicine at the University of Düsseldorf, to the “Spiegel”.

In terms of tobacco control measures, Germany has been doing above-average poorly in a European comparison for years and even took last place in 2019. “In terms of tobacco prevention, we are well behind the Scandinavian countries, Great Britain or the Netherlands,” criticizes Health Minister Lauterbach.

Unlike in other countries, where cigarettes can only be sold in ugly, olive-green uniform boxes without a brand logo, there is a lack of uniform packaging in Germany. In addition, cigarette advertising is still allowed in cinemas and at points of sale, tobacco is clearly displayed at the checkout – this is now handled differently in France, Spain and Co.

Cigarettes may only be kept behind lockable doors here – and taken out upon request from customers. In addition, poster advertising for cigarettes in Germany has only been banned since the beginning of 2022 – after long resistance from those responsible. Germany is thus the last European country to ban public advertising.

Things are much stricter on the other side of the globe. For example, New Zealand recently decided that people born on or after January 1, 2009 should no longer be sold tobacco. The addiction and health risk is too high to answer for this.

Against this background, Lauterbach also warns against the machinations of the tobacco industry. “Children and young people are gold dust for the tobacco industry. If you can get the kids hooked, you’ll have them as customers for decades.”

Smoking is particularly dangerous for children and young people. Since they are still growing, they are significantly more susceptible to the physical effects of tobacco. As the Federal Center for Health Education (BZgA) explains on its website, smoking adolescents suffer significantly more often than smoking adults

In addition, young people become addicted more quickly because nicotine has a stronger effect on the developing brain. This makes it harder for you to quit smoking. Last but not least, the lifetime decreases considerably. Those who start smoking at 14 can have a life expectancy that is over 20 years shorter than adult smokers or non-smokers.