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Dutch smoking ban takes effect, but not for pot

Dutch restaurants and bars sent tobacco smokers out the door Tuesday, enforcing a public smoking ban that excluded marijuana smokers in "coffee shops," who were welcome to stay.
A no-smoking sign is seen in an empty bar in central Amsterdam, the Netherlands, on Tuesday. Dutch restaurants and bars sent tobacco smokers out the door Tuesday, enforcing a new smoking law. Dusan Vranic / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

Dutch restaurants and bars sent tobacco smokers out the door Tuesday, enforcing a public smoking ban that went into effect even in the "coffee shops" where marijuana smokers were welcome to stay.

Some bars hosted smoking parties to mark the end of indoor cigarette use on Monday night. Smokers counted down to midnight, taking their last puffs inside and trading cigarettes for lollipops or heading outside after the clock struck 12:00.

It was a balmy evening, perfect for sitting outdoors anyway.

"I think it is good that they have started today in the summer because that way everybody can get used to it, so that come winter everybody will have grown used to not smoking," said Willem Klaas, a smoker from Amsterdam.

Cigarettes already are banned in public places including train stations and office buildings, so workers take uncomfortable smoke breaks outdoors in this often chilly, wet country.

But the powerful restaurant and cafe lobby won a one-year reprieve on a mandatory ban. A voluntary program of smoke reduction was found to have little impact.

As of Tuesday, restaurant owners have been warned they face escalating fines for repeated offenses of the anti-smoking law.

But Chris Krikken, spokesman for the Food and Wares Authority, said authorities would study compliance and issue warnings for the first month.

The tobacco ban also applies to marijuana cafes, known as coffee shops, where smoking cannabis is tolerated even though it is technically illegal.

Customers who like to mix their weed with tobacco will have to find another way to smoke, or take it outside.

The Health Ministry has said it will not be targeting the marijuana bars any more than any other bar or cafe.

Under a long-standing policy, authorities do not press charges for the possession of up to 0.176 ounces of marijuana. Registered coffee shops may have up to 500 grams of marijuana in stock at any one time.

"It's the world upside down: In other countries they look for the marijuana in the cigarette. Here they look for the cigarette in the marijuana," said Jason den Enting, manager of the Dampkring coffee shop.

Nearly 30 percent of people in the Netherlands smoke tobacco, according to the World Health Organization.

Experts say smoking bans in other countries have greatly improved public health. Onno van Schayck, a professor of preventive medicine at the University of Maastricht, said the number of heart attacks dropped by 10 to 30 percent after bans in Italy and the United States.

Van Schayck said Tuesday's measure was a major health step for the Netherlands. "The ban in railway stations and the working environment, we call that a little ban," he said.

The broader ban could help people quit, he said. If they don't, "one out of two smokers will die because of that addiction."