By Andrew Starke
The Netherlands has become the first European country to lift a ban on smoking in pubs and bars after its incoming government amended legislation to exempt smaller venues.
Owners of small pubs have welcomed the lifting of the ban which means bars smaller than 70 square metres, with no staff other than the owner, are now exempt from the smoking restrictions introduced in July 2008.
"The exemption applies only for small bars with no personnel," a health ministry statement said in announcing the partial scrapping last week.
The ban will remain in force for pubs, bars and restaurants which are run with personnel.
Secretary Wiel Maessen of the 1250 small pubs' umbrella group KHO told reporters he had lit an extra cigarette when he heard the news.
He added that despite his satisfaction on behalf of his members, the fight would not be over until the ban was lifted for the entire sector.
The relaxation of the smoking ban is expected to affect more than 2000 bars, some of which have steadfastly defied the ban over the past two years.
However, the Clean Air Netherlands group has announced it will campaign to reinstate the ban.