July 1, 2008 marked the beginning of the Dutch smoking ban. It was also the day that the first (interim) lawsuit against the smoking ban was filed at the court in The Hague. The legal action was started by a group of some 400 small pub owners. They claimed that the ban should be postponed to prevent damage to especially the small pubs who, because of their physical space
or their financial possibilities, were not able to supply designated smoking rooms to their customers. The verdict came one week later: the pub owners could not proof that the smoking ban would damage their business, simply because the smoking ban had not been in effect before. So this first case was lost.
But the case, and the publicity that it caused in the Dutch press, made an extra 800 pub owners find the specially designed website of the action group and register as a member, each donating € 250 to support further actions against the ban. A year later, the government has ceased the enforcement of the ban because the group had won two cases, both even in high appeal. Almost all pubs currently allow smoking again.
What did exactly happen? In a number of posts, I will try to describe how the fight against the smoking ban was fought in Holland. In this first part:
The pre-ban actions
In the year before the smoking ban started, three smokers organisations joined forces and started a petition against the smoking ban. Started in the summer of 2007, they had asked all pub owners and tobacconists in the country to collect signatures of their patrons under a petition against the smoking ban. The calls were made through their websites and the media picked it up, resulting in a lot of publicity for the action.
An unusual ship, carrying a 2 by 3 meters big flag in the mast crying out "Stop the nannies, stop the smoking ban" sailed all over the Dutch rivers and visited almost 50 cities, visiting pubs and tobacconists in the city centres while leaving the petition there with instructions where to send the signed petition (watch the video on one of the prime Dutch TV-station's blog - article written, on their request, by me). The action found a climax in Amsterdam, where a fleet of ships sailed through the Amsterdam canals with, on one ship, a live group playing an anti-smoking song at a high level of decibels.
On October 12, 2007, a formidable amount of 100,000 signatures was delivered to the Minister of Health and to the members of the parliamentary Public Health commission that was in charge of the introduction of the smoking ban. The signatures, 300 square meter of paper glued together, were courteously accepted by these politicians (and further denied).
After this date, the war against the ban seemed to have been fought and it stayed silent on the front until April 2008. In that month a pub owner in the city of Hoorn contacted Forces Netherlands and described his situation. He stated that the ban would result in the end of his 50 square meter music cafe and he cried out for help. The phone call was a sign that many pub owners would like to fight but needed a central action committee to get it going. They would not be able to do that themselves: the hospitality business organisation itself - 'Koninklijke Horeca Nederland' - was dominated by the big restaurants and in favour of the ban. Additionally, pub owners were scarcely organised through this organisation.
For the second time two smokers' organisations joined hands and started a new, official action committee ('Red de Kleine Horecaondernemer - Save the Small pub owner') with a new, accompanying website. Through the website, pub owners could register to donate €250 to support legal action against the ban. These new sponsors were also added to a mailing list that would allow them to communicate with eachother and the organisation.
A good international lawyer office was found that was willing to set up the lawsuits and several meetings were organised to inform them about the backgrounds of this 'war on smokers'. The lawyers were bombed with information by e-mail as well. These meetings and the information resulted in a first interim trial on July 1 2008, with the aforementioned verdict.
(to be continued)