‘Smoke-free Groningen’: between reality and illusion

Example of smoke-free signs at Harmony University building in Groningen. Photograph: Riccardo Felloni.

The decision to introduce smoke-free regulations into the Dutch city of Groningen has been met with mixed reviews among its citizens.

Groningen, along with other Dutch municipalities, has been supporting the Smoke Free Generation initiative, which through local and national organizations help create a smoke-free environment for future generations. The central Dutch government has taken measures to support such a movement, which includes banning smoking at most universities since the 1st of August 2020, and enforcing a train station ban starting on the 1st of October. 

The citizens of Groningen, whilst accepting these new rules, argue on how effective and impactful they are within the city. “Nothing changes, smokers smoke, and a change in price or location is not going to stop that,” says Gina Posthumus, owner of the tobacco-selling shop The Kiosk in the centre of Groningen. 

The regulations will prohibit the consumption of cigarettes in public places, as well as increasing taxes on tobacco products. When asked on the matter Posthumus says “people have been talking about a smoke-free Groningen for years, but no one knows anything”.

The impact of these changes on the current smokers is something that has met with some scepticism. Frans, a member of the NS Dutch Train Crew, says “these new rules do not make much difference to the smokers, they will just do it outside of the station”. 

However, he does agree that the new smoking ban to be enforced in all Dutch train stations will make the place “neater and cleaner”. 

Hilde Heensink, a member of the University of Groningen staff at the Harmony building, says that “although students still smoke across the street, I do see less people having a cigarette during breaks”. 

“Before, the outside benches used to be completely full of students smoking, whilst now they are all so empty,” he continues. 

So far, the enforcement of such regulations depends mostly on the circumstances. Heensink says that “no one really knows what happens if you get caught smoking on campus, there is no real control”. 

On the other hand, the stations have stricter rules and enforcement. “You pay a 95 euros fine for smoking at the station,” says Frans from NS. 

According to the Dutch government, further regulations are expected to be introduced throughout 2021 and 2022, as not all public places are yet targeted. 

The city of Groningen, through local support from institutions and municipalities, is pushing to become one of the first smoke-free cities of the Netherlands, which would set an example for other cities to follow.

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