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Page last updated at 08:35 GMT, Tuesday, 1 July 2008 09:35 UK

Dutch coffee shops weed out tobacco

By Dominic Hughes
BBC News, Amsterdam

Pre-rolled joints in a coffee shop in Amsterdam
Making joints with any sort of tobacco will be outlawed
It is a lazy weekday afternoon inside the Rusland coffee shop, one of the oldest in Amsterdam.

For years locals and tourists have been coming here to relax in easy chairs, roll up a joint and lose a few hours as they take advantage of Amsterdam's famously relaxed approach to marijuana.

But now, there is a cloud on the horizon. From Tuesday 1 July, the Dutch will impose a nationwide ban on smoking tobacco in cafes, bars and restaurants - meaning any joints rolled using tobacco will be illegal.

Strictly speaking, marijuana is illegal as well - but it is tolerated. So, perhaps oddly, the smoking of pure grass or hash will still be allowed.

Not for the coffee

The coffee shop owners fought the ban for months, but to no avail.

Esther Delahaige, who works behind the bar at the Rusland, says no-one is quite sure how the customers will react.

Doctors Pauline Dekker and Wanda de Kanter
Exemption doesn't work - that's why we have to stop the abuse everywhere; that means also in coffee shops
Lung experts Pauline Dekker and Wanda de Kanter
"They don't come here for the coffee, you know," she says with a laugh.

"It's going to be really hard. Everyone is just waiting to see. We're all just really anxious to see what will happen. We don't know."

Over at the Red Cross Hospital in Beverwijk, just north of Amsterdam, Doctors Pauline Dekker and Wanda de Kanter know what they hope the ban will achieve.

These two lung experts - authors of a best-selling guide to giving up smoking - are looking forward to a drop in the number of smokers.

They see the damage done by smoking every working day, and they believe there can be no exceptions to the ban.

"Tobacco causes such great numbers of suffering," says Dr Dekker.

"Here in Holland we're a small country, but we still have nearly 4 million nicotine abusers. Two million of them will die because of their nicotine abuse.

"And one million will die between the ages of 35 and 69 - which is about 13 years too young. Exemption doesn't work - that's why we have to stop the abuse everywhere. That means also in coffee shops."

No worries

Back in town at another coffee shop, the Greenhouse, a smoker pulls enthusiastically on a bubbling bong.

Many health professionals are increasingly worried about the psychological impact new stronger variations of cannabis can have, especially on young users.

Vaporiser
Vaporisers and other alternatives of inhaling cannabis are replacing joints
And in the Greenhouse many of the customers - most of them British - do look young. To my eyes at least, some of them would be hard pushed to meet the strict over-18 age limit.

Like the bong smoker, many are already using cannabis without tobacco.

Some inhale from a medical vaporiser that heats the cannabis to 158 degrees Celsius, filling a plastic bag with pure THC, the active ingredient in cannabis.

And Greenhouse owner and spokesman for the Dutch Cannabis Retailers Association, Arjan Roskam, says people are increasingly opting for a tobacco-free smoke. He is not worried about the impact of the new law.

"It's much healthier to smoke cannabis than tobacco so actually it's a very normal law," he says.

"Slowly, everyone's realising that tobacco is not the way to go. Most people smoke pure cannabis. And cannabis of course has much less health risks than tobacco, as we all know."

Some doctors and psychologists would disagree with that last statement. But the Dutch authorities have clearly decided that it is tobacco that presents the most clear and present danger.


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