Opinion: Smoking ban

POSTED: 07/6/11 1:40 PM

Flip-flopping is a political pastime and the Dutch government is good at it. Take for instance the smoking ban. It was introduced in June 2008, caused of course a storm of criticism and was subsequently adapted.

Public Health Minister Edith Schippers allowed small pubs an exception from the ban, as long as they work without personnel. The pubs had complained about lower turnover since the ban’s introduction.

Because money rules the world, and therefore also the Netherlands, the government gave in, even though the Supreme Court ruled the acquittal of two pub owners who had violated the ban null and void.

The government’s argument to lift the ban for one-man (or woman) pubs was purely based on the complaint about lost turnover. But the Council of State pointed out this week that it is not at all certain that the pubs lost revenue.

And that was not the only point of criticism: the Council of State also referred to the tobacco law that aims to decrease smoking and to limit hindrance to non-smokers.

Giving small pubs a free pass goes against the government policy to discourage people from smoking, the council pointed out.

The Public Health Ministry says that it has adapted the law and that it has addressed the Council of state’s criticism.

But how does a policy that allows smoking in small pubs relate to the policy to discourage people from smoking? Will the next step not be that larger pubs are going to complain that they are being treated unfairly?

Ah, the ministry had one answer to all this. It has upped the fines violators of the smoking ban will have to pay. First offenders are hit with a €1,200 fine ($1,736), repeat offenders see it go up, first to €2,400 ($3,472) and then to €4,500 ($6,511). In other words: money talks.

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