From today, the Netherlands has joined the majority of the rest of Europe in bringing in a ban on smoking in public places such as shopping centres, in bars, cafés and restaurants.
The catering industry warns that hundreds of small bars will go out of business because of the ban. The pro-ban lobby argues that hundreds of thousands of people who avoided smoky drinking dens will return to take advantage of clean air.
The sight of hardened smokers puffing themselves silly as midnight approached sums up the new puritan mood. Smokers are poor addicts to be pitied.
But even a number of non-smokers think the government has gone to far on this one. Whatever happened to individual freedom? they argue. After all, no one is forcing you to enter a bar where smoking is allowed.
But what the freedom-of-choice lobby forgets is that smoking is not only about individual freedom. It also costs society an awful lot of money. Smokers take more time off work sick and use up a higher proportion of healthcare cash. And just by being, they encourage new smokers to take up the habit.
Of course, tobacco taxes help pay for all that. But perhaps if the government really wants to hammer the message home, it should increase the tax on cigarettes to ridiculous levels. That way smokers will understand that their individual freedom comes at a heavy cost.
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