According to the International Agency for Research on Cancer, the Netherlands has a lung cancer rate of about 93 people per 100,000, higher than the average in Western Europe, including Austria, France and Germany.
Earlier this year, Dutch researchers predicted that without stronger anti-smoking policies, almost a million people in the Netherlands would die prematurely due to tobacco-related diseases between now and 2040.
By 2020, they estimated smoking-related diseases would kill 600 additional people as a result of the government’s decision to stop paying for quit smoking programs and ending mass education campaigns.
Schippers argued in a letter to Parliament that the projection was “partially dependent on assumptions.”
The government’s liberal stance toward tobacco contrasts strongly with its moves to curtail the country’s famous tolerance policy toward marijuana: the government is reducing the number of cafes licensed to sell the drug and plans to introduce a pass system next year that would bar tourists from buying it at all.
Critics argue the Dutch population is woefully ignorant of the dangers of tobacco. In a global survey on smokers’ awareness, only 61 percent of Dutch smokers agreed second-hand smoke was dangerous to non-smokers _ much lower than smokers elsewhere, including Mauritius, China, Brazil and Mexico.
“Dutch smokers are among the least informed about the harms of smoking and second-hand smoke,” said Geoff Fong, at the University of Waterloo in Canada, who heads a program that monitors smoking policies worldwide.
“The Dutch are heading into a situation where their tobacco control could be worse than many developing countries,” he said.
Last year, the government declared that small, owner-operated bars without employees would be exempt from the smoking ban.
Ex-smoker Eddie Moojen quit smoking four months ago on his own and says he isn’t worried about second-hand smoke.
“We had dinner the other night at a cafe where they smoke, it doesn’t make that much difference,” said Moojen, 39, founder of Opentracker, a software company in the southern city of Eindhoven. “I’m not uptight about smokers bothering non-smokers.”
Cheng reported from London. Associated Press Writer Mike Corder in The Hague contributed to this report.