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Europe

Smoking Ban Begins in Italy

Italy's 14 million smokers are bracing for a new anti-smoking law which comes into force Monday. It bans them from smoking in public places including bars, restaurants, discotheques and offices.

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She'll have to stay outside

There have been two delays in applying the regulation, but now the die is cast: As of Monday, private homes, the open air or special places reserved for smokers will be the only places to light up. Plainclothes police will patrol the country's 240,000 eating and drinking establishments on the lookout for miscreants, press reports said.

Asian tsunamis apart, no subject has dominated conversation more among the nation's large bar and cafe population.

Only 5 percent of Italy's 240,000 bars and restaurants have special rooms for smokers, according to FIP, the country's trade association. Some landlords have threatened to boycott the law, warning they will not play sheriff to customers.

Majority in favor

Italienisches Straßencafé

Still open to smokers

Nevertheless, a public opinion poll has shown that 83 percent of Italians are in favor of the new ban.

Many smokers seemed resigned, especially with promised fines of €275 ($360) for customers caught smoking, and up to €2,200 for offending landlords. But opposition remained strong to the end in this land of dedicated subversives, extending even up to cabinet level.

Parliament is setting an example with a rigorous ban on its premises despite protest from die-hard smokers in government and on the benches.

"I've been smoking since age 18 -- it's my sacred right," Italian Defense Minister Antonio Martino said in an interview with Corriere della Sera newspaper. "These restrictions are overdone."

A cartoon in the same newspaper showed a blindfolded man exhaling a last puff of smoke as he stands before a firing squad.

"Jan. 9, 2005, one last cigarette," read the caption.

Protecting non-smokers

The law was passed in 2002 and the government will accept no further delay in implementing the legislation.

The rule was supposed to take effect on Jan. 1, but Health Minister Girolamo Sirchia granted a final stay of execution so as not to spoil New Year's Eve celebrations and the religious Feast of the Epiphany on Jan. 6.

Sirchia said the law was designed to protect public health.

"It's not inspired by the idea of prohibition," he said. "It's to protect against passive smoking."

Rauchen in Irland Aschenbecher

Irish pubs threw out ashtrays last March

The move follows similiar bans imposed last year in Ireland and Norway, where smoking is barred in public places. Other countries, such as Britain, Portugal and Sweden, have drafted plans to establish similar laws.

The German government meanwhile has recently announced plans to ban smoking in schools and hospitals, but so far no attempts have been made to outlaw cigarettes in other public places as well.

Soft transition

Gianpaolo, a 54 year-old office worker, said his local bar in Cinecitta, the Rome movie studio district, had already banned smoking to get regulars used to the idea.

"The landlord put up a sign saying 'Vietato fumare' (no smoking)," he said. "There's no special room where you can smoke, but he allows smoking on outside terraces where there are ashtrays if customers can't do without a puff even for a moment."

Raucherin in Italien Rentnerin in Cafe

An elderly woman lights up a cigarette in a bar in downtown Rome in front of an handwritten note reading in Italian "Please don't smoke."

Gianpaolo said he is miffed because, although he can still buy cigarettes at his local bar, he can't light up there over his coffee and grappa.

At Angelo's Bar near the Vatican Museums, the landlord has a sign up saying: "You're allowed to smoke on alternative days here. Today is no-smoking day."

"I'm an inveterate smoker and I know it will be hard to find a bar or nice tearoom to have a cup with my friends," said Teresa. "There are very few places with separate rooms for smokers."

Fears of losing customers

But she admitted: "Basically I find the law OK. It has been in force for a long time on trains, and that makes things better for everybody. It used to be awful."

One problem will be discotheques, whose owners fear losing customers, mostly young smokers.

Kardinalsmützen bei Heiliger Messe

Who's smoking here?

Meanwhile inside the Vatican, Catholic church officials dutifully try to respect Italian regulations but with occasional lapses by smoking priests.

After all, according to tradition this is where it all started in Europe, when a 16th century French ambassador, Jean Nicot, presented the tobacco weed as a gift to the pope.

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