Smoking Ban France Bids Cigarettes Adieu

Smoky jazz bars and cafés could soon be just a hazy memory. The French will have to stand in the street or stay at home if they want to puff on their beloved Gauloises, Gitanes or other cigarettes once a government ban on smoking in public places goes into effect next year. Those who refuse to comply will face hefty fines.

France is to ban smoking in public places from Feb. 2007

France is to ban smoking in public places from Feb. 2007

The French government has announced that from Feb. 1, 2007 smoking will be banned in public places. The ban will cover all schools, train stations, airports, shops, offices and other public buildings, but not streets, private homes or hotel rooms. There will be an "adjustment" period until January 2008 for cafés, restaurants and discos. The anti-smoking measures were announced on Sunday by French Prime Minister Domnique de Villepin during a television interview.

Cafés and restaurants will be allowed to create special closed-off smoking areas which will not be entered by staff. Those who ignore the ban will face a fine of €75 ($95), while any premises that fail to enforce the ban will have to fork out twice that amount.

Villepin said he was convinced that the French people "are now ready" for such a law. He also announced a series of measures to go hand in hand with the ban -- the state will pay some of the costs of anti-smoking treatments, and hospitals will increase consultations services. Kiosks and tobacco shops will also receive compensation.

Villepin argued that health risks demanded such a move: "I think everybody understands today how we need to move toward this public health necessity." According to a report by a parliamentary committee released last Tuesday, 66,000 people die from smoking-related illnesses each year in France, while between 2,500 and 5,800 people die as a result of passive smoking. Villepin said that more than 13 deaths a day caused by smoking was "an unacceptable reality in our country."

However, some French smokers are interpreting the ban as an infringement of their freedom, rather than a public health measure. And the hospitality industry has vowed to fight the ban, claiming it will hurt their businesses. A leading industry association UMIH said in a statement on Sunday that the ban would be "ineffective,"arguing that "once again, it is the café, restaurant and discotheque sector that is the scapegoat of all society's ills."

Villepin had originally intended to introduce a ban last spring but when his disastrous attempt to introduce a youth jobs plan was shelved following massive protests, the smoking ban was also consigned to the back-burner. The ban will now be ordered "by decree" to avoid a potentially explosive parliamentary debate.

In 2002, President Jacques Chirac made the fight against cancer one of the central planks of his re-election campaign. Since then taxation on tobacco has been dramatically increased. Since 2003 cigarettes sales have fallen by a third and around 1,500 tobacco outlets have closed down.

Similar smoking bans have already been introduced in Italy, Spain, Great Britain and Ireland. However, in Germany, politicians have proved reluctant to impose a cigarette crackdown.



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