France ushers in New Year's smoking ban
New smoking ban in cafes and restaurants drove smokers out into the street to light up their cigarettesPARIS, January 1, 2008 - France began 2008 under a new smoking ban in
cafes and restaurants that drove smokers out into the street to light up their
cigarettes as bar owners put away ashtrays.
The ban signals a sizeable cultural shift for one of Europe's last smokers'
bastions, particularly in Paris where cafe society and cigarettes have
traditionally gone hand-in-hand.
"It's an enjoyable moment that is now gone forever: smoking over coffee,"
said Brigitte Caboulet, puffing on her cigarette outside a Paris boulevard
cafe early Tuesday.
Like many other smokers standing out in the cold, Caboulet said she was
resigned to the fact that she could no longer light up in her favourite cafe.
"Soon, we will be like the Americans. We won't be able to wear perfume,"
"I'll get used to it," said Thomas Sechet, tossing his cigarette butt on
the sidewalk. "We've known for a while that this was coming."
Despite some grumblings, opinion polls show broad support for the ban,
which came into effect with the ringing in of the New Year, 11 months after
France banned smoking in workplaces, shops and other public areas.
Under France's anti-tobacco law, cafes, restaurants and nightclubs were
given more time to set up separate smoking areas with ventilators, but few
have taken on the large renovation and equipment costs.
Also on Tuesday, a smoking ban in cafes and restaurants went into effect
across several regions of Germany and in Portugal as part of a growing
anti-smoking wave in Europe that began when Ireland outlawed tobacco in public
places in 2004.
In Paris, Jean-Claude Chenu, manager of the Cafe Gramont, put up his
no-smoking signs when he opened at 8:00 am.
"There has been no problem," Chenu said, adding that customers were
stepping outside to light up, despite the cold.
"For me it's a matter of respect for the people working behind the bar. We
don't want to breathe in their smoke all day," he said.
"Smokers are getting the message," said Daniel Tual, a waiter at Le
Marivaux cafe in central Paris where no-smoking signs also went up early
"I haven't had to ask anyone to stop smoking. They are going outside."
The French government however gave some respite to New Year's revellers who
failed to stub out at the stroke of midnight, saying it would enforce the ban
starting on Wednesday.
This prompted some cafe owners to keep the ashtrays out for one final day.
As of Wednesday, smokers who light up in public places face fines of up to
450 euros (645 dollars) while business owners can incur penalties of up to 750
euros for violations.
There are about 13.5 million smokers in France, in a population of 60
Up until the last-minute, some groups representing cafe owners had appealed
to the government to ease the ban, arguing that it would cut business and
drive some establishments to bankruptcy.
"To throw our customers out in the street to smoke is tantamount to
shooting ourselves in the foot," said Rene Le Pape, the president of the
30,000-member Confederation of Tobacconists.
But other groups in the restaurant industry supported the measure, saying
it would bring in a new clientele, such as families who for years have shunned
"Our objective isn't to annoy people, but to protect them," Health Minister
Roselyne Bachelot said.
"We shouldn't forget that every year 66,000 deaths are caused from smoking
and 5,000 from second-hand smoke."
In anticipation of the growing legions of smokers puffing out in the cold,
Paris city authorities announced plans to distribute 10,000 "pocket ashtrays"
in the coming weeks to ensure the capital's sidewalks are not littered with
The small round ashtray tins are designed to fit nicely in trouser pockets
but can still hold butts from several cigarettes, say city authorities.