In smoke-free Paris brasserie, new 'art de vivre' takes shape
Carole Landry follows the Health Minister to find out how the French are coping with the new smoking ban
PARIS, January 3, 2008 - With its high ceilings, brass columns and cozy
leather booths, the Wepler brasserie has for over a century allowed patrons to
crown a feast of steak tartare or seafood by smoking a cigarette. Not any more.
It was here in central Paris that Health Minister Roselyne Bachelot
descended for a first-hand look at how France is coping with a new smoking ban in cafes and restaurants that came into effect with the New Year.
"You're not smoking?" she asked a woman seated at a table as waiters in
long white aprons zigzagged from the kitchen, carrying plates of lobster, soup
and French fries.
"Very good, bravo!" said Bachelot as the woman flashed a pack of cigarettes
tucked away in her bag.
French smokers from Wednesday risked hefty fines for lighting up in cafes
and restaurants as authorities began enforcing the ban.
After granting a one-day reprieve to smokers over New Year celebrations,
some of the 200,000 public health inspectors, police and other state authorities were on patrol to ensure the ban was being adhered to.
At Wepler's, ashtrays were stowed away early Tuesday and no-smoking signs
hung at the door, as in most other restaurants where owners opted against
setting up the costly enclosed smoking areas still allowed under the law.
"This brasserie is over 100 years old and there has never been a smoking
ban," said manager Michel Bessier.
"But I don't think that business will suffer. On the contrary, we expect to
attract new customers such as families who did not come to bistrots because
they were smoky and a little dirty," said Bessier.
After meeting with staff and chatting with customers, Bachelot said reports
from the field "in all the cities of France show that the legislation is being
very, very well respected."
"This is a new art de vivre supported by more than 80 percent of our
citizens," said Bachelot of the smoking ban.
Seated in a corner once reserved for smokers, banker Marie-Joseph Michel
lamented that she would not "linger over coffee" with a smoke as she used to
at Wepler's at the end of her meal.
"I guess I'll just step outside," said Michel, 59.
But her lunching companion Dominique Monniotte, a non-smoker, chimed in,
saying she now planned to frequent cafes more often because of the cleaner air.
"Finally, I won't have to endure other people's smoke," said Monniotte, 56.
Under France's anti-tobacco legislation, smokers who light up in cafes face
fines of between 68 euros (100 dollars) and 450 euros while business owners
can incur penalties of up to 750 euros for violations.
A similar ban went into effect in eight of Germany's 16 states and in
Portugal as part of a growing European anti-smoking wave that began when
Ireland outlawed smoking in public places in 2004.
But Germany's legislation is piecemeal: a ban on smoking in all public
buildings, including bars, restaurants and nightclubs, applies from January 1
in eight of the country's 16 federal states.
Three of the remaining states have already brought in the ban, whilst the
remainder will follow suit between February and July -- meaning the whole
country will not be covered until the end of 2008.
The French ban in cafes, restaurants, nightclubs and casinos came 11 months after smokers were banned from lighting up in France's workplaces and other public areas, causing some grumbling but no outright opposition.
There are about 13.5 million smokers in France, in a population of 60
Despite opposition from some cafe and bar owners, the government says it is
tackling a major public health challenge and hopes the ban will encourage
smokers to kick the habit.
Tobacco is the leading cause of avoidable death in France, claiming the
lives of 66,000 smokers per year while more than 5,000 non-smokers die of
second-hand smoke, according to the health ministry.