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Italians Fuming Over Smoking Ban

A cigarette with that Chianti? No more — at least not in most of Italy's restaurants and bars, starting next month.

In this cigarette-loving country, a new law to ban smoking in public places has won support from nonsmokers. Restaurant owners, however, are fuming because it requires them to report diners who flout the law and light up.

They worry their new policing role will sour relations with customers.

"We are being asked to become informers, but we don't want to give up our relation with customers," lamented Edi Sommariva, the director general of the Italian federation that groups bars, restaurants and other public places.

If the law isn't changed, he said, the association will go to court.

The new legislation goes into force Jan. 10. It was originally expected to take effect at the end of this month, but officials agreed to postpone enforcement to allow smokers a few last puffs on New Year's.

"We will not allow any more delays," Health Minister Girolamo Sirchia said over the weekend. "Those who want to smoke can do so in the streets or in their homes, not around those who do not tolerate it."

The legislation is the centerpiece of Sirchia's efforts to curb smoking in Italy. Italian regulations already restrict smoking in many places, although these laws are often ignored and rarely enforced. About 26 percent of the adult population lights up, according to Health Ministry figures.

The law bans smoking in all indoor spaces unless they have a separate smoking area with continuous floor-to-ceiling walls and a ventilation system. It raises fines by 10 percent for violators and envisages stiff penalties of up to $2,900 for personnel who do not report to authorities when a customer is smoking.

The outcry made headlines in many Italian newspapers Monday. Corriere della Sera, the country's largest daily, ran a front-page editorial headlined "The Sheriff's Trattoria."

Reporting violations is "the job of the state and of its public officials. A bartender and a restaurateur are not guards," said the editorial.

Sirchia — a prominent doctor before taking up the ministry job — shrugged off the protests, saying personnel "must merely invite the customer to avoid smoking if it's not the right area."

He received support Monday from the Codacons consumers' group, which said it would "unleash its inspectors in bars and restaurants to make sure the ban is enforced."

But even some members of the governing coalition distanced themselves from Sirchia's anti-tobacco campaign.

Ignazio La Russa, a prominent lawmaker in the National Alliance government party and an ex-chain smoker, said the law would stigmatize smokers as "people with a plague." Another lawmaker from the same party, Alberto Arrighi, said Sirchia "is a great doctor, but he seems to me a Taliban member on the political level," according to the ANSA news agency.

Italy's law follows a similar effort in Ireland, which forced a ban on smoking in all enclosed workplaces, including pubs, earlier this year. The move has caused 7,000 people to quit smoking and 10,000 to decrease their frequency, according to the European Union's top health official, David Byrne.

The British government said last month it was also seeking to impose a smoking ban in most public places, including restaurants and any pub or bar that serves food.

In Italy, only 10 percent of restaurants deemed it convenient to create a smoking area, according to Sommariva's association. The rest will become entirely nonsmoking.

"The law is exaggerated, and it's based on a terrorist approach I don't agree with," said Claudio Ferrari, a 27-year-old archaeologist — and smoker — sipping coffee in a bar in central Rome. "I don't share the idea that it's up to the state to educate citizens. A little common sense is all it takes."

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