Monday, June 30, 2008

Cigarettes Down and Nearly Out... The Smoking Ban in The Netherlands

At midnight tonight, the bars and restaurants of The Netherlands join many other European countries and go smoke free. There are "rookfeestjes" across the land this evening, smoking parties! Venues promoted the last weekend of smoking and got the crowds in, and a comedy club in Amsterdam dedicated their evening performances to the cigarette.

The Netherlands follows England, France, Scotland, Ireland, and Denmark, to name a few, to ban smoking in pubs and eating-places. The ban here is a follow up to the 2004 law that forbids smoking in the workplace and public transport. Back then, the entertainment industry was temporarily exempt, and employees in theatres, cafes, bars, restaurants, hotels and clubs either liked it or lumped it. As of 1 July 2008, they too have the right to a smoke free work environment.

Other public areas also fall under the new law, effective tomorrow, such as covered shopping centres, congress centres and airports.

There has been a lot of focus here in the media on the consequences of a smoking ban on bars, and the loss of customers it will bring. Bar owners will go out of business, as regular customers will stay at home. Smokers are complaining about a nanny state telling them what they can and cannot do. Similar debates have taken place in other countries before bans were introduced, and the ride for bar owners in some cases has been rough.

There are some people in The Netherlands who are overjoyed with the idea of a smoke free meal in their favourite restaurant, who cannot wait to kick back with a beer and clean air in a local cafe or bar or go to the theatre and breathe in fresh air during the interval. An estimated 455,000 people in The Netherlands are planning to stop smoking in line with the ban. In England, the BBC reports today that a survey suggests that a similar number in the UK have given up since the smoking ban came into force a year ago.

The reality is that smoking per se is not banned in pubs, clubs and the like in Holland, but closed off smoking rooms must be created, and table service will not be provided to these areas. The issue is that many smaller places do not have either the room or money to create separate areas and without being able to smoke the fear is that customers will either stay away or keep their purchase to one drink before heading home.

The primary reason for the ban is to protect customers from passive smoking. It is a health consideration and a law that the government expects will save lives in the future. There may be economic consequences, though Koninklijk Horeca Nederland estimates that bar owners need to ride out the first six month of the ban and thereafter customer numbers should steady up, but surely, the health considerations should be the priority. The politicians believe that the benefits and cost savings in the health industry outweigh the costs of the smoking ban in the entertainment industry.

No doubt, generations to come will look back on smoking in bars and clubs in the same manner that my generation looks back on smoking in the workplace (picture the BBC drama series “Life on Mars”), smoking whilst pregnant and smoking on the buses – so NOT done. Anti-smoking campaigners are already preparing for the next battles - outdoor terraces are not subject to the smoking ban, adults may still smoke in their car with their children accompanying them and a pregnant woman that smokes is currently breaking no law.

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