France Sans Smoky Cafes? Mais Oui!

A student smokes a cigarette in a cafe in Paris, Tuesday Oct. 3, 2006 in Paris. A parliamentary panel in cigarette-friendly France called Tuesday for the government to ban smoking in public places like cafes and restaurants in less than a year and floated the prospect of special "smoking rooms."
AP
Smokers across France braved chilly weather to light up on the sidewalks, and restaurant and cafe owners predicted hard financial times as a smoking ban took effect on Tuesday.

Eight states in neighboring Germany also launched restrictions on smoking in bars and restaurants, though the measures were generally more flexible than in France - where smoking in cafes, bars, restaurants and night clubs is now prohibited.

Though French officials gave smokers a New Year's Day reprieve, saying they would only start enforcing the ban on Wednesday, many Paris cafes and restaurants had already gone smoke-free.

Newly hung no-smoking signs dotted the entrance and walls of the Cafe Elysees, off Paris' celebrated Champs-Elysees avenue, and staffers bundled up for sidewalk smoke breaks.

Client Pierre Morgon, 22, praised the ban, saying the cafe's clean air allowed him to better appreciate the food.

"Today's filet mignon tastes richer than it did yesterday," said the Cafe Elysees regular with a sly smile.

Morgon, a smoker, said the restrictions would also help motivate him to kick the habit.

"There's no way I'll be able to put it off anymore," he said.

Others saw the ban as attack on their individual rights.

Jean-Pierre Aiglement, a 55-year-old waiter at the Cafe Au Depart, in northern Paris, vowed not to be "chased out onto the pavement" by the "stupid law."

"I'll smoke where I please," he said, lighting a cigarette to go with his morning coffee.

Under the measure, those caught lighting up inside face a $93 fine, while owners who turn a blind eye to smoking in their establishments face a $198 fine.

Restaurateurs and cafe personnel say the ban forces them to police their clients, and insist it will slice into their revenues. Smokers who light up with a countertop morning coffee, on the dance floor or after a meal make up a huge customer base.

"Once they start enforcing the ban, this place will be empty," Aiglement said.

Loic Chardonnay, a 22-year-old waiter at the Cafe Elysees, said he expected business to slow down for several months.

"But it'll pick up once we French get used to it," he predicted, pointing to the success of recent smoking bans in Spain and Italy. "If they can do it, there's no reason why we won't be able to."

With the ban, France joins the swelling ranks of European countries that have enacted broad anti-smoking restrictions. But for many in this country, which is known for its hazy cafes, cigarettes are an integral part of what it means to be French.

About a quarter of France's 60 million people smoke. The Health Ministry said one in two regular smokers - or some 66,000 people annually - dies of smoking-related illness here, and about 5,000 nonsmokers die each year from second-hand smoke.

Last year saw the reinforcement of a long-standing prohibition on smoking in France's workplaces, schools, airports, hospitals and other "closed and covered" public places like train stations. Restaurants and other so-called places of conviviality were given an extra 11 months to adapt to the new rules, which allow smoking only inside special sealed chambers.

Restaurateurs have decried the chambers, which they say are prohibitively expensive, and urged more flexibility in the new measure.

In November, some 10,000 protesters, mainly tobacco vendors, marched across Paris in an unsuccessful attempt to persuade lawmakers to water down the new measures.

In Germany, a group representing restaurant and bar owners filed a challenge to the country's supreme court against new anti-smoking laws - which took effect Tuesday in the states of Bavaria, Berlin, Brandenburg, Bremen, Hamburg, Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, Saxony-Anhalt and Schleswig-Holstein. The details vary state-to-state, though the German smoking laws are generally less restrictive than the French one.

A ban on smoking in German trains, other public transport and federal buildings took effect in September.

American tourist Regina Sauma applauded European efforts to go smoke-free.

Sauma, a New Yorker who often travels to the continent for business, said she did not think the French ban was a threat to Parisian cafe culture.

"There's more to Paris than just smoke," Sauma said as she braved low temperatures and overcast skies to savor a cigarette on an outdoor terrace.