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Dutch no-smoking drive takes a hit
Question of the Day
AMSTERDAM (AP) - It’s getting surprisingly easy to light up in the Netherlands these days _ cigarettes, that is.
Even as the Dutch government hardens its famous tolerance policy on marijuana, it is taking an increasingly relaxed stance toward tobacco, bucking the trend in nearly every other developed country.
Last year it exempted some bars from a smoking ban and now it has unveiled plans to reduce spending on anti-smoking advertising campaigns and end funding for health care programs to help people kick the habit. The Netherlands is also planning to cease funding its national center on tobacco control.
Nearly half of the nation’s bars and nightclubs flout the 2008 smoking ban but they’re rarely punished.
“There’s no other country that’s taking these backward steps,” said Lies Van Gennip, director of the national tobacco control center, slated to be closed in 2013. “I’m ashamed of what’s happening here.”
At a press briefing on Wednesday, several Dutch politicians and experts blasted the government for backtracking on tobacco control policies. Opposition lawmaker Renske Leijten of the Socialist Party said Health Minister Edith Schippers was making the wrong decision to cut back on quit smoking policies.
“You can even wonder if she is minister of health or minister for the tobacco industry,” she said.
Inge Freriksen, a health ministry spokeswoman, told the Associated Press the Netherlands had chosen “a different manner of prevention” _ one that focuses on educating children on the dangers of smoking.
The Netherlands is home to Europe’s biggest tobacco industry and also has Philip Morris’ largest factory worldwide. Some experts have suggested possible improper links between the Dutch government and Dutch tobacco that account for the changes.
In a recent documentary on Dutch television, tobacco lobbyist Alexander van Voorst Vader said he knew Schippers when she served in Dutch Parliament and held numerous discussions with her. “She was very open (to) sensible points of view of the industry,” he said.
Any communication where the tobacco industry might influence government policies is strictly forbidden by the World Health Organization’s international tobacco control treaty, which the Netherlands signed in 2005.
Health ministry spokeswoman Freriksen said any communication government officials had with the tobacco industry was legitimate. “It’s not forbidden to have communication with tobacco companies in a normal manner about enforcement,” she said. “You do talk with them.”
The WHO tobacco control treaty obliges signatory nations to introduce strong tobacco control measures including increased legislation, taxation and education. But like most global treaties, there are no real measures to punish countries that don’t comply.
According to the Netherlands‘ National Organization for Tobacco Trade, Dutch consumers bought more than 4 billion euros ($5 billion) worth of tobacco products last year. About 27 percent of people in the Netherlands smoke, slightly higher than other rich countries including Britain and the U.S.
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