French smokers fume as public ban looms

3rd October 2006, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, Oct 3, 2006 (AFP) - French smokers were making a painful mental adjustment Tuesday as a parliamentary committee recommended a ban on smoking in public areas from next year and the government indicated it will act quickly on the advice.

PARIS, Oct 3, 2006 (AFP) - French smokers were making a painful mental adjustment Tuesday as a parliamentary committee recommended a ban on smoking in public areas from next year and the government indicated it will act quickly on the advice.

It means that from September smoking in French bars, restaurants and nightclubs could be completely prohibited — unless they provide hermetically-sealed 'fumoirs' into which serving staff are not allowed to penetrate.

The government seemed bent on ignoring the outcry from the bar and tobacco lobby, which is warning of dire financial consequences if the ban comes into effect, as well as the irritation of millions of smokers — accustomed to France's traditionally lax approach to cigarettes.

Speaking in parliament on Monday Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin said the French "would not understand it if we did not take a decision" following the committee's report. Health Minister Xavier Bertrand said action could follow later this month.

After five months of consultations with doctors, tobacconists and trade unions, the 30-member committee decided in favour of a blanket ban on public smoking from September 2007 at the latest — though it held open a possible delay till summer 2008 for some establishments.

Smokers could only indulge their habit in "hermetically-sealed areas, furnished with air extraction systems and subject to extremely rigorous health norms," according to a report which was to be formally adopted later Tuesday.

The report also advised the government to resort to a decree to enact the ban, rather than a law — which it warned could prove cumbersome in the months leading up to April's presidential election.

Moves to prohibit public smoking in France reflect the changing mood across Europe — where several countries led by Ireland have introduced similar measures — as well as the growing prospect of litigation by victims of passive smoking.

The failure of France's existing anti-tobacco legislation has also been a factor. Enacted in 1991 the so-called Evin law was ahead of its time in that it made obligatory to set up separate smoking areas in bars and other public places.

But while most offices and public transport are now smoke-free, the law has never been properly enforced in drinking and eating places — where the post-prandial light-up is widely seen as an inalienable right.

According to government figures, some 35 percent of the French population use tobacco — although consumption has fallen after big price rises in the last two years. Some 66,000 die of smoke-related illnesses every year and 5,000 of passive smoking.

Representatives of the bar trade reacted with fury, arguing that it will be financially impossible for most establishments to install special rooms for smokers.

Rene Le Pape, of the Tobacconists' Confederation, warned of street protests. "They keep hitting us about the head. We are the scape-goats," he said.

Smokers at the Louis D'Or bar in central Paris appeared resigned to the coming change.

"You have to respect the rights of others," said Valerie, 29, a smoker since the age of 20. "I will have to go to smoke outside, I suppose. In the winter it will be harder though. Then I will have to smoke at home."

But in the northern city of Lille a bar that blazed the trail by voluntarily banning smoking last November reversed its policy earlier this month after losing 40 percent of its customers.

"It looked like the trendy thing to do. Everyone was talking about banning smoking and I thought if we got in first we'd be in the avant-garde. It's great for the health - but commercially it doesn't work," said Dominique Lecrocq, owner of the Tudor Inn.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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