Dutch bar owners defiant over smoking ban
If you go to a pub in the Netherlands, you could be forgiven for getting a little confused. Are you allowed to smoke or aren't you?
Last July, the Dutch government introduced a smoking ban in restaurants, bars and hotels. At first, pubs and smokers seemed to be complying to the new smoke-free regime. But as bar owners saw their revenue plummet, the ashtrays have been put back on the table.
At first any establishments found flouting the law were issued a warning. The 300-euro fines were only imposed if bar owners continued to allow smoking in their pubs. Some pubs even have a collection box next to the door to help pay for the fine. Checks on smoking in pubs did not appear to be frequent. The laid-back approach led to pub owners in Den Bosch deciding to collectively ignore the smoking ban. In response Health Minister Ab Klink has decided to get tough. In the future, he wants violations of the ban to be treated as economic offences which would allow the authorities to impose fines as high as 16,000 euros.
The organisation representing hotels, restaurants and cafés, KHN, thinks the Health Minister is leaving small cafés out in the cold. KHN says bar owners should enforce the ban, but argues for compensation for small pubs faced with substantially fewer customers as a result. The organisation predicts 1500 to 3000 establishments will go out of business as a result of the ban. KHN managing director Lodewijk van der Grinten says:
"A few weeks ago we clearly showed the minister what the effect would be on turnover. But he doesn't want to do anything about it."
Mr Klink rejects compensation for small bars, saying that " Compensation is extremely difficult." After a meeting with KHN, he said that shops selling magic mushrooms will not be compensated when their sector is banned in December. Nor are petrol stations in border regions awarded compensation because motorists drive to neighbouring countries for cheaper petrol. KHN argues that small cafés often don't have sufficient space to create special smoking areas, which means that many regulars are staying away. The minister does see a fall in turnover but there has been no sharp downturn since July when the ban was introduced. He hopes the drop will be temporary.
The KHN wants the minister to fine the individual smokers and tackle the problem of illegal drinking establishments. Mr Klink says he is keeping an eye on developments but does not see any reason to change his course.
Meanwhile the bar owners who are resisting the smoking ban are in defiant mood. A spokesperson for a pressure group representing 1400 bar owners in 32 towns says, "We would rather go under with the ashtrays on the bar, than allow ourselves be led to the slaughter."