No more blue smokescreen at the Dutch local

No more blue smokescreen at the Dutch local

1st July 2008, Comments 0 comments

A new law bans smokers from lighting up in pubs and restaurants in the Netherlands. At first there was a lot of opposition to the measure, but the grumbling has gradually died down. By Sebastiaan Gottlieb*

As of 1 July we are smoke-free, tooNow it seems that even the most incorrigible smoker has accepted the new situation. The only dissenting voices are from the owners of small restaurants and pubs. They have appealed the legislation. On 1 July they will go to court in an attempt to repeal the law.

Many smokers will make a virtue of a necessity and stop smoking on the 1st of July.

This smoker who has been addicted for ten years and has not been able to quit by willpower alone says, while coughing:
"I really think it's irritating, but at the same time it's also positive because I'm going to quit right away. If in the end you can't smoke anywhere and you have to stand outside and you can't bring your beer with you then it's no more fun. So you might as well stop. A lot of my friends and acquaintances are joining me and that also gives me inspiration."


Smoking ban is late
The Netherlands is one of the last countries in Western Europe to ban smoking in public places; now Austria is the only one remaining. Sixteen countries have ratified a ban on smoking in public since 2004, when Ireland introduced the first anti-smoking measures.

The Netherlands has had a ban on smoking in government buildings since 1990. Since 1 January 2004, passengers must be able to travel without inhaling smoke and the same holds true for the workplace. An exception was made for restaurants and pubs - the branch is permitted to take its own measures. Health Minister Ab Klink says the ban was imposed because self-regulation didn't work all that well. The ban is based on the employee's right to a smoke-free working environment.

Intelligent exhaust hoods
A number of firms have created special smoking areas, which can vary from a covered courtyard to genial exhaust hoods that allow employees to work in a completely smoke-free environment. Cafés are also allowed to create separate Pub owner Benno Sweeringrooms for smokers where there are no waiters. Benno Sweering, who owns a bar/restaurant in the south of the Netherlands, thought that his exhaust hoods met the Health Ministry's requirements.

"The minister said that if you had a plan to circulate the air you could continue to smoke. But a year later he says the plan is no longer valid. So I'll wait to see what the next step is. I'll watch what other people do."

A café for lorry drivers in the east of the Netherlands had a first with a so-called barrarium, a combination of ‘bar' and ‘aquarium'. The barman stands behind a glass wall. Underneath is a small space where the drinks can be served. The smoke can't enter from the café because of the pressure behind the wall. However this solution wasn't allowed either, to the owner's great distress.

"The personnel are in a smoke-free working environment. The only problem is the opening underneath the glass plate. It is in violation of the rules, which require that it be visually closed. We have an invisible curtain created by the pressure, and this is a problem."


Small cafés rebel
The construction of special smoking rooms is a large financial sacrifice for smaller cafés. The owner is also the barman in around 400 of these cafés that have already announced that they will ignore the ban. They will leave the ashtrays where they always were and they'll allow their customers to smoke. The owners are afraid that they will lose their customers if they agree to the ban. They have joined forces.

Chairman Jaap Brandligt says:
"We estimate that in most pubs between 70 and 80 percent of the customers smoke. Some of them will leave. This adds up to a loss of around 40,000 euros annually. That's quite a blow for people like us. You might not survive it."


Cultural importance
Mr Brandligt points to the cultural importance the cafés have in big cities as well as villages. The cafés have been the heart of society and play a large role in social life. The first illegal cafés for smokers have reportedly opened their doors in Amsterdam.

On 1 July the federation of café owners will appear in court to argue that a distinction should be made between large and small cafés and restaurants. Recently a German court ruled that the losses caused by the ban were unreasonable and that their very existence was threatened. Soon German smokers will be able to light up again in their favourite pub. Is there still hope for Dutch smokers?

* RNW translation (fs)

 [Copyright Radio Netherlands 2008]

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