cigarette pack Tobacco Control wants to ban smoking rooms in Holland
Dutch MP wants tax breaks for fake charities outlawed.
cigarette pack

The ban on smoking in small owner-operated bars in the Netherlands was re-introduced in 2014 and that left some bars with a choice; defy the law and risk massive fines, or install a smoking room. In very small premises that's a problem, however there is an example of what one bar owner in Delft did to cater to her customers, the majority of whom smoke. She paid Euro 12,000 to have a purpose built smoking room installed that they've nicknamed "the aquarium" (01)!

It's a huge gamble and an awful expense to build a smoking room, so whenever I visit the Netherlands I only ever frequent places that have them, even if I have no plans to smoke. I have a list of places with smoking rooms in Amsterdam (02) and what I've found is those that offer something really nice are very popular, while places with shoddily converted spare corners, mezzanines, basements or such are usually empty. It has to be done right, or don't bother.

Smokers in the Netherlands rarely have to hang around in the street, or huddled in doorways - and that's a very good thing for single women, older people and - as we learned in Paris on 13 November 2015 - from random attacks by self-styled Jihadists (03). Furthermore it's perfectly acceptable on a cold or wet day to nip into a smoking room and leave without buying anything; many establishments are fairly laid back about that.

They have a choice and they use their discretion, so it comes as no surprise to find that smokers in the Netherlands are far less taken by the anti-smoking propaganda that swamps most of the English speaking world. Seems that less than 25% are worried about the health risks to themselves and 90% are not convinced about the whole second hand smoke scam (04). Or, as tobacco control likes to describe them (and myself), they don't feel in the least guilty nor are they apologetic about smoking!

In high summer I spent a goodly part of an evening parked comfortably in the smoking room of the Batavia pub, that's a couple of minutes walk from Central Station (and thus the airport). They have several good photos of their rookruimte on their website (05) and I took one using a mobile phone.

Batavia pub Amsterdam rookruimte

Batavia Pub Amsterdam smoking room.

It was taken about 14.30 hrs, then I had things to do and when I got back at about 17.00 hrs it was a whole different scene. It was pretty packed and continued to fill until I left - and that was a Monday!

What struck me was the stability of the place; people intended staying for a long time, eating, drinking, spending money, chatting away and of course enjoying a smoke at the same time. If anyone left it was to order and collect drinks or food, none of this grab a jacket then disappear for ten minutes as we see in the UK. While employees are not required to enter the smoking room, one of them stopped by for a smoke and a natter herself and cleared tables, or just simply collected empty glasses on her way out.

Now Clean Air Netherlands intends to take the Dutch government to court to force them to close all smoking rooms (06). I see they claim that every year 3,000 non-smokers die of second hand smoke, though to date not one single case of death by SHS has ever been recorded. And they say that smoking rooms are not allowed under FCTC, which is utter rubbish and is the reason they have them in France, Belgium, Italy and so on.

This of course is exactly the same strategy used by tobacco control elsewhere; to lie, exaggerate, presume to speak for all non-smokers and to assume "expert" status. However these, together with all the other claims made by the spokesperson for Clean Air Netherlands, will need to be backed up by concrete evidence in a court of law.

The problem is that establishments with smoking rooms will have to pull resources to mount a credible defense and, unless they can organize and get a lawyer versed in the nuances of the FCTC treaty, who can also ruthlessly cross examine so called "experts" and who does not defer to, respect, nor hold-in-awe those claiming to be "Doctor" or "Professor", then they're sunk from the outset. It's a tall order, but they've got no choice than to fight back.

Another problem may be that bar owners' with very small premises (less than about 350 square feet - who are not allowed to install smoking rooms) no longer have a stake in any defense. It's the classic divide and rule tactic. Certainly those at the fore of tobacco control are very keen indeed on a scorched earth policy where no exceptions whatsoever are allowed - and they have the money as well as the patience to keep on at it indefinitely.

However it seems that Clean Air Netherlands may have taken things just a little too far a little too quickly. They not only want smoking rooms banned, they also want to see smoking banned in the gardens of people's homes as well on terraces, pavement seating, gardens and the like. Oh and they want outdoor BBQ's banned as well.

This has led to one Dutch MP - Erik Ziengs - to call for Clean Air to lose its charity/tax free status so they're forced to file returns showing who or what is financing them (07).

What I find most remarkable is Erik Ziengs is not from the Party for Freedom (PVV). That's the Eurosceptic party headed by Geert Wilders' that's always sided with small pubs as well as those with smoking rooms (the vote to ban smoking in small bars passed by one vote, partly because PVV lost a couple of seats at the last election). Nope Erik is from the VVD (Party for Freedom and Democracy) that's far larger, more mainstream and also provides the Netherlands with its current Prime Minister (08)!

So when Erik says "while freedom of speech is a greater good, it does not have to be financed by tax payers" and that he'll "ask the junior health minister if the tax free status can be removed from organizations which pit people against each other", he's got the contacts and considerable cross party support to make that happen for all fake charities - if he sticks with it.

Perhaps the most encouraging thing Erik said was "The Netherlands has already gone far enough to stop smoking in cafes and bars". Showing that he's more in tune with his constituents than most MPs - and sees right through these oh-so-helpful taxpayer funded pressure groups.

Were this the UK then Clean Air would have meandered into the House of Lords, had a wee chat to any of the Lords or Ladies or Dames who were Doctors or were sponsored by the medical profession and one or more of them would have petitioned on their behalf to have the whole thing fronted by a tame MP.

But Clean Air Netherlands doesn't have that comfortable, back door, off-the-record connection with the establishment; they have to convince a court of the validity of their claims, where lying under oath is a criminal offense. And even if they and their "experts" manage to pull it off, they still have to get it passed into law - and that means getting past many Dutch MPs who see through them and despise what they're trying to do to the Dutch people.

I hope Erik Ziengs can deliver and I'd love to be in the first audit team to descend on Clean Air!
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Smoking Scot
December 2015