Over 500 smokers sign up for criminal case against tobacco firms

Zwarte Piet debate starts early as chief Piet, celebrities call for change

Between 500 and 600 people have so far signed up to support a lawsuit accusing the tobacco industry of grievous bodily harm, the Telegraaf says on Monday. A Dutch lawyer and a lung cancer patient are planning to take tobacco companies to court for producing cigarettes designed to turn people into addicts as quickly as possible and appealed in April for supporters. Lawyer Benedicte Ficq and cancer victim Anne Marie van Veen are putting together a criminal case against cigarette producers, arguing that out of court settlements do not go far enough. ‘I want to see tobacco firms prosecuted for deliberately damaging people’s health,’ Ficq told television programme RTL Late Night in April. Ficq and Veen argue that tobacco firms cannot hide behind the freedom of choice of people to smoke because they are deliberately influencing smokers’ behaviour by adding addictive chemicals such as nicotine to cigarettes.  More >

Zwarte Piet debate starts early this year

Zwarte Piet debate starts early as chief Piet, celebrities call for change It may be only almost June, but the debate about Sinterklaas' helper Zwarte Piet is already raging in the Netherlands, after a rebellion by Dutch celebrities and television personalities. Earlier this month comedian Erik van Muiswinkel, who has played the main Piet character on television for years, said he was quitting the role. And this weekend, his name is one of over 100 on an open letter to the public broadcasting umbrella group NTR calling for change. The Sinterklaas festivities on December 5 are always proceeded by weeks of special programming about the adventures of the saint and his sidekick in the Sinterklaasjournaal. But now the celebrities, including Van Muiswinkel, tv presenter Arie Boomsma, sax player Candy Dulfer and actress Halina Reijn, have written an open letter to the NTR urging programmers to modernise the television tradition and take a stand. 'The NTR does not seem to be able to see that they are maintaining Zwarte Piet in its current form, despite the well-founded criticism and calls for change,' the letter said. By not moving with the times and taking a moral standpoint, the NTR is 'ditching its responsibilities,' the signatories said. New mood The NTR hit back later on Monday, stating that Zwarte Piet is changing in the television show and that the Sinterklaasjournaal news show does reflect the new mood. The show first introduced different coloured Piets in 2014 and that shift is irreversible, NTR director Paul Roemer and media director Carel Kuyl said in their rebuttal. 'Zwarte Piet is changing and that is self-evident,' they said. 'The question is really about how you do this, and how fast you should move. The makers of the Sinterklaasjournal are caught up in the middle of that complicated process.' Reform Meanwhile, Sinterklaasjournaal reporter Dolores Leeuwin on Monday afternoon said she was leaving the programme because not enough was being done to reform the character of Zwarte Piet. 'I am going to miss it, but I can no longer sell it to myself,' Leeuwin, who is black, told Joop.nl. 'The NTR is not making a choice, and if it is, it is taking the easy way out.' The character of Zwarte Piet is played by white people in blackface make up.  More >

Cannabis growing 'good for human rights'

Zwarte Piet debate starts early as chief Piet, celebrities call for change Legalising cannabis production would have benefits for public health and human rights, according to a study commissioned by Dutch local authorities. The 27 municipalities are among a group campaigning for a change in the law that would allow them to regulate the growing and wholesale of weed plants. The government has rejected such calls for years, arguing that it would breach international treaties designed to restrict the illegal drug trade. The study by Radboud University in Nijmegen found that illegal cannabis production was linked to criminal violence, fires, environmental and noise pollution and the spread of legionella bacteria, the Volkskrant reported. Legalising the process, they argued, would potentially improve health and safety and therefore be justified on human rights grounds. Local authorities would have more scope to reduce the harmful effects of cannabis, for example by limiting the level of the active ingredient THC in legally grown plants. They added that the government would have to guarantee that any measure did not affect the situation in other countries, so any legal cultivation would have to be tightly regulated with a total ban on exports. The legal status of cannabis production has been a long-running political sore point. So-called 'coffeeshops' are permitted to sell small quantities of the drug under licensed conditions, but the wholesale trade remains illegal, meaning the cafes have to buy their supplies on the black market. The Radboud researchers stressed they were not passing judgment on the current policy, but wanted to challenge the government's long-standing argument that international law blocked any moves towards legal cultivation. International law professor Geert-Jan Knoops told the Volkskrant that the government was worried about setting a precedent. 'The argument is that the ban should be lifted because of the negative effect of a ban. That would mean that the same logic could be applied to other things that are currently illegal,' he said.  More >

50,000 have no official date of birth

Some 50,000 people in NL have no date of birth in their passports Some 50,000 people in the Netherlands still have a passport without a valid date of birth because it is unclear exactly when they were born, the AD says on Monday. Not having a full date of birth makes it impossible to calculate when people should get the state pension, or to book flights and get a government approved digital signature or Digid, the paper points out. The problem is particularly acute among immigrants from countries without a rigid system for registering births, the paper says. To tackle the problem, in 2014 the Dutch state introduced a fictitious birth date for all refugees who don’t have a complete birthday: January 1 for people born in the winter and July 1 for those in the summer months. However, the AD found that many local councils are not making people aware that they can change their passports and only get a handful of requests for change a year.  More >

Dutch dye plant garden wins Chelsea medal

Dutch garden featuring dye plants wins prize at Chelsea Flower Show Two Dutch garden designers have won a silver gilt medal at the Chelsea Flower Show in London for a garden based on plants used to make dyes. The AkzoNobel Honeysuckle Blue(s) garden, sponsored by the Dutch paint and coatings manufacturer, was designed by Claudy Jongstra and Stefan Jaspers and features ordinary plants, including nettles and sorrel, in a show setting. 'It was a complete surprise [to win],' Jongstra told the Volkskrant. 'It is the first time we have participated and newcomers have to prove themselves. We did lose points because the steps in our garden were slightly too high by British standards.' The garden is to be recreated in Leeuwarden in 2018, when the Frisian city becomes Europe's cultural capital, the Volkskrant said.   More >