The decision by the new government in Holland to amend the smoking ban introduced two years ago is very welcome, not least because it highlights the intransigence of politicians in the UK. It also gives us somewhere to go for long weekends, but that's another matter.
Just as important, how does the UK compare with countries other than Holland? Let's not beat about the bush. Smoking in public is restricted throughout Europe, but to a greater or lesser extent most countries provide exemptions to the ban in bars and, sometimes, restaurants, cafes and casinos.
Here are some examples:
* In venues greater than 80m² separate smoking rooms covering maximum 50% of surface area are permitted
* Venues between 50m² and 80m² may permit smoking provided the owner can prove that partitioning or separation of the premises is not possible
* Venues less than 50m² may decide to become either fully smoking or non-smoking
* In restaurants smoking is allowed in a separate smoking room in which only drinking is allowed
* In bars that do not serve food (only pre-packaged foods that keep at least three months are allowed) a smokers zone is permitted; it cannot take up more than 50% of the total surface of the establishment and needs to be equipped with a ventilation system
* Casino playing rooms are exempt from the smoking ban
* Smoking rooms with adequate ventilation (where food and drinks are not served) are permitted in venues larger than 40m²
* Small bars (less than 40m²) may permit smoking
* Smoking regulations at regional level usually allow for separate smoking rooms
* Some special restaurants and bars are exempt from the ban altogether
* In some states there are exemptions for small pubs or beer halls (Festzelte) or even for specially designated 'smoking restaurants'
* Segregated smoking rooms allowed as long as they cover less than half the space of the venue, with strict ventilation requirements
* In venues with an area less than 100m² the owner may permit smoking, as long as: (i) the smoking area is clearly designated; (ii) it is physically detached from the remaining facilities or has an autonomous ventilation mechanism; (iii) the direct ventilation to the exterior is assured by an air extraction system
* In venues with a total area of 100m² or more, owners may designate up to 30% of their total area as a smoking area or up to 40% in the case of a physically separated area, as long as the conditions (i), (ii) and (iii) are fulfilled and the area does not include spaces used exclusively for workers or areas where workers have to be permanently
* Smoking permitted in separate smoking rooms in restaurants and other places where food and drink are served; smoking room must occupy less than 50% of the total area and no serving or consumption of food and drinks will be permitted inside the smoking room
You get the picture - and I haven't even mentioned Eastern European countries such as Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania, the Czech Republic or Latvia where exemptions remain reasonably generous. (The Czech Republic for example allows proprietors to decide whether to designate their premises as smoking or non-smoking, or provide structurally separated areas for smokers and non-smokers, and then visibly label their premises in accordance with specific signs.)
The point, rarely acknowledged by politicians in the UK, is that our smoking bans are more draconian than anywhere else in Europe with the exception of Ireland. Funny, that.