Dutch govt intends to exempt small bars from smoking ban
The Dutch government said Wednesday it intended to exempt bars smaller than 70 square metres (753 square feet), with no staff other than the owner, from a smoking ban introduced in July 2008.
"The exemption applies only for small bars with no personnel," a health ministry statement said.
"Every bar will have to put up a sign to alert customers whether or not it is a smoking establishment.
The smoking ban will remain unchanged for establishments like restaurants, bars with personnel, and discos, the statement said.
Health Minister Edith Schippers on Wednesday informed parliament of the decision, which was in line with the governing agreement of a new, rightist coalition.
Health ministry spokeswoman Inge Freriksen told AFP the decision must still be approved by parliament, where the minority coalition of the Christian Democratic Action (CDA) and the conservative liberal VVD enjoys the backing of the Party for Freedom of anti-Islam MP Geert Wilders.
All three parties, which together have a one-seat majority in the lower house of parliament, support the measure.
It would also be referred to the Council of State, which advises the government on legislation.
In the meantime, "enforcement of the smoking ban in small bars with no personnel will not be a priority, and fines already issued will be withdrawn," said the statement.
The Netherlands banned smoking in the hotel, restaurant and catering industry as from July 1, 2008 to protect staff from the dangers of passive smoking.
Fines ranged from 300 to 2,400 euros (420 to 3,360 dollars) for the owner.
Earlier this year, statistics from the Food and Consumer Product Safety Authority (VWA), a government body, showed that about 41 percent of Dutch bars and discos were transgressing the law.
Owners said they risked financial ruin if they showed puffing clients the door. Many did not have the space or the money to install separate smoking areas.
The Netherlands has more than 5,500 bars, about 3,000 of them staffed by the owner alone.
Schippers said that through the new exemption "consumers will get more freedom of choice and personnel will remain protected against tobacco smoke."
Shortly after the ban was introduced, bar owners formed resistance groups collecting money to help one another pay the fines and legal costs for defying the ban.
Two different courts ruled last year that the ban unfairly discriminated against small, one-person operations.
But those rulings were annulled, and appeals judges in June this year upheld the ban's general applicability.
© 2010 AFP