Thursday, July 9, 2009

Dutch treat (smoking edition)

Can put-upon minorities wage battle against government regulators and win? In the Netherlands, at least when it comes to smoking bans, the answer appears to be "yes." After a year of widespread defiance of a law banning smoking in bars and cafes, and two court victories by bar owners, the Dutch government is backing off enforcement of the intrusive ban and effectively letting many smaller businesses set policies that work for them and their customers.

The key to the apparent victory appears to be cooperation. Bars and cafes across the country coordinated their defiance of the smoking ban after business dropped by as much as 30% in the wake of the law's passage. To lure back customers who wanted cigarettes with their drinks, bars put the ashtrays back on the tables.

First-hand accounts even had bar patrons using table-top candle holders for their ashes in establishments that didn;t want tomake their defiance too obvious.

The Dutch government fined hundreds of establishments, but couldn't break the back of the resistance.

The law suffered perhaps fatal setbacks when courts ruled that the the government had no authority to impose total bans on small establishments that had no staff when it let larger businesses designate smoking areas. Another court ruled in favor of a bar owner who designated a store room as the (non-smoking) bar and the rest of the establishment as a smoking area.

Now, Dutch bar and cafe owners are free -- at least for the time being -- to establish rules that attract customers and suit their businesses.

From the beginning, smoking bans have been little more than efforts to take the preferences of some people and turn them into legal mandates for all businesses, without regard for the preferences of business owners and their customers. Smoking bans are widely popular in a country where a majority of the population doesn't use tobacco, and their popularity has been enhanced by cloaking the issue in nice-sounding but spurious public health language that doesn't really apply to situations involving establishments that people can choose to enter or bypass as they wish.

Ultimately, there's little difference between mandating that all bars be non-smoking and that all bars play light jazz -- just because the current crop of politicians likes it that way. It's just easier to sell the smoking rule in a wrapper of false concern for the health of people who are capable of taking care of such matters themselves.

The Dutch example shows that, at least sometimes, efforts to mandate one-size-fits-all environments can be effectively thwarted if resistance is sufficiently widespread and determined.

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Blogger akaGaGa said...

So how do we get widespread and determined resistance in a bottle-fed, brainwashed nanny state?

July 9, 2009 6:35 PM  
Blogger J.D. Tuccille said...

Well ... we can't make it happen. Enough people have to be ticked off that they're willing to tell the authorities to get stuffed.

Maybe, the Tea Parties are a step in that direction, There does seem to be a fair amount of anger there.

July 9, 2009 7:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


-By saying FUCK YOU in any way you can, as often as the occasion for it requires, and giving no quarter (though civilly) in discussion with others.

July 15, 2009 8:33 AM  

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