Being Dutch…

Posted on July 8, 2011

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Apologies for linking primarily to Dutch sources…

Unfortunately it seems Dutch people refuse to listen…

Overall, the introduction of the smoking ban in public places seems to have been a success with compliance in most countries reported to be in the 90%s. The ban was based on convincing scientific evidence on the expected health benefits to the population; benefits that subsequently been shown (for example in 1,2). Plus the majority of people seem to be in favour of this ban (overview)- although this may be more informed by a new-found wealth in being able to still wear the same clothes after visiting a pub than by any concerns about health.

Of course all this started with protests from the “general public”, confusing the ban on harming other people with a ban on tobacco consumption  (it remains a topic of interest to determine the involvement of the tobacco industry in generating “general public” protests (Dutch link)) and by painting scenarios of economic disaster for the hospitality industry if this ban was to be   invoked. Nonetheless, subsequent independent studies provided data from different countries showing that smoking bans did not harm businesses (link) (although not unexpectedly, industry associations came up with opposite numbers*).

We are a couple of years down the road now and, solely based on my experience in the UK everyone seems to have settled in and people who do smoke just as easily pop outside for a fag.

Job done…

…Not so in the Netherlands (Dutch link)…

Being the birthplace of the one and only “Smokers’ Church” (apparently expanding to Belgium), which rather than being an actual church is more of a humoristic attempt to get classified as a religion based on smoking (and should therefore not be part of the smoking ban), there has been continuous coordinated actions to revoke the ban. While in other European countries “not annoying other people, with added health benefits” is common practice by now, lobbying the current populist Dutch government has proven to be a fruitful exercise. Reasoning that these establishments have no personnel to protect but in utter disregard of all public health and economic evidence (as well as any customers), as of July 2011 smoking is allowed again in small establishments being run by one person only (Dutch link).  Although the penalty for other establishments has been increased, it has already been made clear by the government that they are not actually going to do inspections.

In other words, with a one-step forward-two steps-back approach the Dutch have managed to disregard a logical evidence-based and defensible public health approach in favour of an opportunistic, back room-based approach. Unfortunately, someone, or more specifically the Dutch people themselves, will have to cough up (pardon the pun) the money to pay for healthcare, and other related costs in the future. Costs that will not have to be paid by other, smarter, countries.

By that time however, there will be another government to blame…

*: in this context, even if smoking bans would have had an effect on sales in the initial period after their introduction, this would have been completely overwhelmed by economic events. At least in Europe….

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Posted in: Public Health