Christmas carols and tobacco

Posted on December 16, 2011


It is almost Christmas; a time to eat as much as humanly possible in two days, but also traditionally a time to think of others rather than oneself. Whether that happens in practice is another matter and I don’t know the answer to that, but what i do know that in the Netherlands the whole concept of ‘thinking of others’ has been effectively chucked out of the window.   

In line with most other Western countries, the Netherlands nowadays has a populist right-wing government. However, in their particular case it is not so much the right-wing part, but the populist part that turns out to be a major problem. Unfortunately, knowledge, data, or even a vision about how to govern, have been abandoned for 1-sentence soundbites to capture popular votes. There are well-known examples of this with respect to religion, the European Union, etcetera, that are interesting, sometimes amusing, but not relevant to this blog.

Instead, I’d like to highlight recent developments in tobacco smoking regulations. I have written about this in an earlier post, so essentially this is a follow-up.

A paper (more of a comment really) was published in the renowned medical journal The Lancet last week (link) entitled “Can the Dutch Government really be abandoning smokers to their fate?” And to be honest, it is quite a disillusion…

Normally, I would use the word “we” in discussions having to do with the Netherlands. But in this case I am a bit ashamed about it, so by virtue of current residence, I will be using “they”.

Here in the UK I have to say that the smoking ban has resulted in quite a pleasant weekend experience. Pubs, bars, and restaurants are essentially smoke-free; to the benefit of everyone. It is now considered normal practice that if you are in dire need of a smoke, you just go outside (usually with smoking friends, but  others may join for a chat – without whining). Moreover, all this is done without discussions or grumpy and sarcastic comments. Let alone anyone would say “I don’t care, if I want to smoke in this restaurant I will”. I would call this “civilization” and I can only assume this is how things work in other countries intelligent enough to have introduced anti-smoking regulations for public places…

Not so in the Netherlands, where the ashtrays

are back on table…

Having one of the highest smoking prevalences in western countries (27% (link)), estimated to result in about 20,000 premature deaths per year (link), the Dutch Government (they) have decided to combat this using the following strategy:

– Close down its tobacco control operations

– Weaken of existing smoke-free laws

– Reverse the decision to have evidence-based treatment for smokers wanting to quit

– Close down the national centre on tobacco control STIVORO 

It seems having good lobbyists does pay of…

As discussed in the Lancet paper, what is even more of a disillusion (at least to me, but I have been away for some time now), is that that Dutch smokers are the least knowledgeable or concerned about the harms of smoking and second-hand smoke of all the 12 countries covered (Mauritius, France, China, Brazil, Germany, New Zealand, Canada, Mexico, UK, Australia, USA, and well…them). Actually not by a little, but by a substantial margin – The corresponding figure can be found here (link).

So not just do they care the least about their own health, which, fair enough, could be argued to really be their own problem (if others did not have to pay for the health bills), but they also do not care about effects of second-hand smoke on others.

Now there is a cheery Christmas-thought for you. Doesn’t it make you go all warm inside (I’d say that may just be smoke)?

I am going to end this with a quote from the paper itself, since I couldn’t have said it better:

It would be a matter of no little shame to a country that prides itself on a compassionate and inclusive ethos if its government were to abandon smokers to their fate. Every death that ensued would not just be the responsibility of the tobacco industry, which continues to promote its lethal product, but also of every politician in the Dutch Government who chose to look the other way and allow it to happen.”

Posted in: Public Health