02 Apr 2013
The smoking ban introduced in 2008 initially included all cafes. However, the first act of the Minister of Health of the government coalition that came to power in 2010 was to partially reverse the smoke-free law, allowing smoking in bars of less than 70 square metres that had no employees. In 2011 an exception was introduced for cafes of the same size without staff. Following this decision, compliance with the law decreased in bars that were not exempted.
During this period, tobacco control advocates found only closed doors at the governing coalition, so they targeted opposition parties, preparing for better times. However, a new coalition took power at the end of 2012, and tobacco control was put under the responsibility of the Deputy Minister of Health. Advocacy efforts of the past years started paying off and the political climate for tobacco control improved. Today, a small majority in Parliament favours stronger tobacco control measures.
On 12 February 2013, the House of Commons voted narrowly in favour of lifting the exception to the smoking ban for small bars. With the court decision of 26 March – based on a suit launched by civil society – the exception for small cafes is also put aside immediately.
Despite this positive development, compliance with the smoke-free law remains a concern. From the moment the smoking ban was introduced in the hospitality sector, compliance has been a problem, with about 20-30 percent of all bars disregarding the ban. This seems partially due to the lack of an information campaign to explain the smoking ban. Maintaining compliance is complicated by the fact that the original law allows hospitality venues to have designated smoking rooms.
As the court decision was based on FCTC Article 8.2 and its guidelines, and specifically mentioned that all indoor public places should be totally smoke-free, in our opinion designated smoking areas will no longer be permitted.
Undoubtedly, the court decision is a major step forward for tobacco control in the Netherlands and abroad, especially because of the prominence it gives to the FCTC. On the other hand, much more work remains in order to increase compliance, denormalize smoking, and adopt other policy measures that are essential to decreasing smoking.