Dutch pub owners have launched a coordinated resistance against a smoking ban introduced in June, taking their ashtrays out of short-lived storage and pooling cash to pay the resultant fines.
Thousands have joined groupings intent on countering the law seen by many as un-Dutch and patriarchal; approaching the courts for relief and daring authorities to try and stop their clients from lighting up.
AdvertisementMy clients are all regulars. They come here to play cards and dice. Ninety-five percent of them smoke, that's just the way it is, Jef Broeren, owner of the cafe De Kauw in Tilburg in the south of the country, told AFP.
Less than a week after the ban came into effect, Broeren brought the ashtrays out again after initially trying to comply.
Neighbours complained about the smokers on the pavement and I saw my profits dwindling, he explained.
The Dutch health inspectorate VWA said this week that nearly one in four of the 750 pubs inspected in the past three months did not abide by the law.
There were different degrees of disobedience, it said in a statement. In about 100 pubs there were slight violations, while 75 were deliberately flouting the law.
In this last group, "not a single measure was taken to give effect to the smoking ban", said the VWA.
Broeren and other defiant pub owners from around the country came up with a plan in September to create a pool of money to pay the fines likely to befall them.
Some 1,500 establishments have so far subscribed for a once-off amount of 50 euros. "The initiative is spreading fast," said Broeren.
The VWA has inspected more than 6,700 premises since the ban on smoking for the hotel, restaurant and catering (Horeca) industry came into effect on July 1.
Pubs were the least adherent by far. Ninety-five percent of other enterprises, including restaurants, sports bars and hotels, conformed to the law, it found.
The VWA has issued many warnings and about 50 fines, which rise from an initial 300 euros up to 2,400 euros with repeated infringements.
Wiel Maessen of the anti-smoking ban association "Save the small horeca enterprise" told AFP that at least 5,000 pubs countrywide still allowed their clients to smoke.
"The idea is to get all 15,000 small pubs in the country to join our movement. Such a number would be impossible to police without this becoming a police state."
Health Minister Ab Klink has announced changes to the law so that establishments can be fined on the spot from October 1, without prior warning.
He told parliament this week that the VWA would intensify its inspections, targeting those entities known to be deliberately flouting the law.
But the small horeca association, which has launched a court application for its members to be excluded from the ban, protests that small pubs have already seen their profits drop by between 30 and 50 percent and risked disappearing entirely.
The association claims to represent some 900 establishments that do not have the money or the space to erect a separate smoking area.
We are not breaking the law because we like to, but because we have no choice, the body said in a recent statement.
The court application is pending.
www.horecasite.nl, which claims to be the Netherlands' biggest online retail agency for the horeca industry, said this week that the number of businesses on sale had risen 10 percent since the introduction of the smoking ban.
And the Koninklijke Horeca Nederland, the largest industry association, said the situation was close to chaos.
I sound the alarm for a great many enterprises, its president, Lodewijk van der Frinten, recently said, complaining about the disproportionate effects of the ban on small bars.
The Central Statistical Bureau recently found that the number of smokers in the Netherlands had dropped by nearly 100,000 since 2000, with less than a quarter of Dutch still enjoying a cigarette.
The VWA had no statistics for compliance by coffee shops, which face a unique conundrum under the new law as its patrons are allowed to smoke marijuana as long as it is not blended with tobacco.
The use of soft drugs like marijuana is tolerated in the Netherlands.