Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The Smoking Ban in the Netherlands

Photo: mi-sio
My very first blog post, back in June 2008, was about the new smoking ban that was being introduced the following day in the Netherlands. Fast forward to today.

The smoking ban has proved to be rather a thorn in the side of the Dutch government.  There has been much discussion about the fact that those bars clearly defying the ban over the last few years faced no consequences. Small cafe owners threatened to sue the government for lost earnings from the smoking ban.

Balkenende's government held fast. But then the latest coalition government came in and rescinded part of the law so that owners of those bars up to 70m2 with no employees are free to allow smoking in their premises. Fines for violating the smoking laws in these establishments were also cancelled. Clean Air Nederland collected 35,000 signatures against lifting the smoking ban in some cafes.

For those places where the smoking ban is still alive and kicking, there will be higher fines, stricter checks and enforcement of the law.

In a nutshell, it's a heated discussion in this country - even though the law came into being nearly three years ago. The Netherlands is the first country in Europe to actually reverse a smoking ban. The Dutch HEALTH minister put the reversal down to "consumer choice".

One of the striking differences in the Netherlands is that the ban was not introduced to protect the public from passive smoking but as an extension of the law to protect employees in the workplace, hence bar owners with no staff could challenge the introduction of the law.

Interestingly, restaurants seems to have taken the ban in its stride.

It has all been a bit of a mess and for some reason the Netherlands has faced a difficulty getting a smoking ban implemented that seems to have passed other countries by.

The EU is looking for wider and stricter measures from the member states to reduce the effects of involuntary inhalation of second hand smoke - particularly regarding children and adolescents. At present in the Netherlands around a third of schools ban smoking on their schoolpleinen. Health Minister Schippers wants this to become a total ban and will come with a proposal this spring. I'm assuming that schools won't be as difficult as bar owners to convince that smoking on the school playground should be stopped......

It will certainly be interesting to see how the Netherlands handles any further ban in public areas.

What are your thoughts on how the smoking ban has been handled in the Netherlands? 

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