The last puff for cigarettes in Holland?
The heat is on! The Dutch government fired the first shot in a new war on 1 January when tough new anti-smoking measures came into force. But the humble cigarette is not going out without a fight, writes Cormac Mac Ruairi.
"Smokers are an easy-going folk, but if they begin to see that it is almost impossible to smoke anywhere, they are going to hit back," warned one opponent of the anti-smoking measures last year.
Taking part in an internet discussion forum run by Dutch broadcaster NCRV, the pro-smoker warned that:
"The first signs are here already: I have heard of a company director who is no longer going to hire no-smokers, because such people could drag the entire company down in disaster."
Citing the seeming inability of the Dutch government to prevail against drug offenders, the writer proposed the estimated 31 percent of the population who smoke use similar strong-arm tactics to assert their rights to enjoy the "cancer stick".
The Dutch government has indeed been talking tough in recent years when it comes to combating smoking and the problem of passive, or second-hand smoke in particular.
Championed by former health minister Els Borst, who was named non-smoker of the year in 2003, the latest smoking legislation came into affect on 17 June 2002.
Several measures came into force straight away, such as the ban on promotional, free giveaway of cigarettes and smoking in airplanes (already banned by many airlines) was prohibited by law.
But as a result of lobbying by interest groups and for administrative reasons, other facets of the law took affect later.
The idea was that the screw would gradually tighten to reduce the high level of smoking in Dutch society. (The Netherlands is in the premier league of smoking when compared to the US rate of 20 percent, 24 percent in France and 25 percent in Belgium.)
The timeline was:
- From 7 November 2002, billboard advertising and sponsorship (excluding motor-racing) was banned;
- From 1 May 2002, all cigarette products carry larger and more visual warning about the dangers of smoking;
- Tobacco advertising in magazines and newspaper was banned from 1 January 2003, as was a ban on selling tobacco products to people aged under 16 and the sale of packets containing less than 19 cigarettes,
- The sale of tobacco products in government organisations was outlawed at the beginning of 2003.
The banning continues in January 2004, with the outlawing of all cigarettes with more than the maximum level of 10mg tar, 1mg nicotine and 10mg carbon monoxide. From 1 May, 2004, a maximum level of 12mg tar applies to 750mg packets of shag tobacco.
The message appears to be getting through; Dutch anti-smoking group Stivoro says that about 950,000 people intend to kick the habit in 2004.
About 800,000 tried to beat their tobacco addiction at the turn of the millennium and 12 percent of that group was successful.
Stivoro director Trudy Prins hopes the percentage of people persevering will be higher this year "due to a combination of the legal changes, price increases (EUR 0.55 in excise tax was added to the price of packets of 20 cigarettes in 2004), increasing support services for people wishing to stop and the greater publicity about stopping smoking in general".
To the delight of many opponents of tobacco and the horror of committed smokers, 1 January 2004 also heralded additional measures that severely limit lighting up in public.
From this date, everyone has the right to a "smoke-free environment" while using public transport and in the workplace.
Smoking has not been allowed in buses and trams for years and in the last months of 2003, Dutch rail operator NS abolished the smokers' carriages on many of its services.
But smokers are also now prohibited from smoking in train sta