AMSTERDAM – It’s getting surprisingly easy to light up in the Netherlands these days – cigarettes, that is.

Even as the Dutch government hardens its famous tolerance policy on marijuana, it is taking an increasingly relaxed stance toward tobacco, bucking the trend in nearly every other developed country.

Last year it exempted some bars from a smoking ban and now it has unveiled plans to reduce spending on anti-smoking advertising campaigns and end funding for health care programs to help people kick the habit. The Netherlands is also planning to cease funding its national center on tobacco control.

Nearly half of the nation’s bars and nightclubs flout the 2008 smoking ban but they’re rarely punished.

“There’s no other country that’s taking these backward steps,” said Lies Van Gennip, director of the national tobacco control center, slated to be closed in 2013. “I’m ashamed of what’s happening here.”

At a press briefing on Wednesday, several Dutch politicians and experts blasted the government for backtracking on tobacco control policies. Opposition lawmaker Renske Leijten of the Socialist Party said Health Minister Edith Schippers was making the wrong decision to cut back on quit smoking policies.

Schippers said she believes in freedom of choice for smokers and that the government has “gone too far in making rules about it.”

The Netherlands is home to Europe’s biggest tobacco industry and also has Philip Morris’ largest factory worldwide.