It usually tops New Year’s resolution lists: the pledge to stop smoking. In the Netherlands, smokers will get some added encouragement to kick the habit with strict new anti-smoking laws which go into effect this year.
Only 8 percent of quitters succeed in stopping smoking
With the start of the new year, smokers across Europe invariably throw away their unopened pack of cigarettes, hide their lighters and go out of the way to avoid people who continue to puff away -- at least for a few days until the will to kick the habit succumbs to the urge to light up. In the Netherlands, the resolutely-minded are given an extra boost of encouragement to stop smoking for all time.
As of Jan. 1, a series of strict new anti-smoking laws make cigarette breaks virtually impossible.
The new legislation prohibits smoking in public places and on public transport, in taxis and at bus and train stations, as well as at the workplace. Employees will only be allowed to smoke in special rooms equipped with extractor fans. Although employers are under no obligation to provide for such arrangements, those who permit workers to smoke in offices face fines ranging from 300 to 2,400 euros.
Under the law, smoking is also banned in areas such as stairs, hallways, conference rooms, cafeterias and toilets.
Hotels, bars, restaurants and international trains, however, have won a temporary reprieve to permit smoking, but only on condition that they find a compromise by 2005.
The tough new legislation is designed to cut the number of smokers down by 5 percent over the next three years. Official estimates say that out of a population of 16 million, there are around 4.4 million smokers in the Netherlands -- one of the higher rates in Europe.
So far some 850,000 Dutch have pledged to kick the habit in 2004. They’ve registered on a Web site sponsored by the Foundation for Public Health and Smoking which is geared towards providing support for potential quitters.
"Most people who register on the site say they want to quit for health reasons", foundation director Trudy Prins told reporters on New Year’s Day, "but I think that for many people the fact that they will no longer be able to smoke in the workplace has helped give them that extra push."
Across Europe, enjoying a cigarette is becoming increasingly difficult as governments consider implementing anti-smoking legislation. Sweden has already passed a tough anti-smoking law that will go into effect in 2005, and Ireland is also on the verge of passing a ban similar to the one in the Netherlands. Great Britain is deliberating a crack down on smoking in public spaces, but after a heated round of debate from the country’s pub owners, the government has decided to postpone any decision until later in 2004.
But in Germany, the government has been accused of taking too soft a stance on smoking in public places. EU Commissioner for Health and Consumer Protection David Byrne has said that Germany is not doing enough to fight nicotine addiction. He has criticized the government for taking an "easygoing" stance to smoking considering that an estimated 100,000 Germans die of smoking-related diseases every year.
Moreover, the EU Commission, which launched an anti-smoking campaign last year called "Feel Free to Say No," has accused Berlin of trying to block a comprehensive world-wide anti-smoking initiative by the World Health Organization, which is already supported by over 190 countries. In the past years, Germany has also come out strongly against an EU initiative to ban cigarette advertising across Europe.
Next to Spain and Greece, Germany has the highest rate of smokers in Europe. Statistics collected by the federal health ministry also show that while smoking declines in the rest of Europe, Germany’s number of smokers stays relatively constant. But even more alarming, the starting age for first-time smokers is dropping. As of 2003, every third ninth grader smoked.