French smokers will be headed outside as of February, when the country's smoking ban takes effect in public places and extends to hotels, bars, restaurants and night clubs 11 months later.
French smokers should enjoy lighting up while they can
The last cigarette in French schools, shops, offices and other public places will be stubbed out on Feb. 1, 2007, Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin announced on Sunday.
"The issue is ripe in our country, given the experiences that we know of elsewhere," he said. "I am convinced the French people are now ready."
But to make sure the French are eased into the ban, bars, restaurants and nightclubs will be given to Jan. 1, 2008 to adapt to new regulations that call for these venues to have installed strictly supervised smoking rooms, which staff will not be required enter or serve.
Villepin's announcement followed a parliamentary committee's recommendation last week that noted that some 70 percent of the public supports an effective ban on public smoking.
Anyone who lights up despite the new laws will be subject to fines of 75 euros ($95) while establishments that do not apply the ban will be charged 150 euros.
Some businesses not happy
Some businesses affected by the ban have reacted angrily
Many bar and restaurant owners reacted angrily to the proposal, saying they face major financial losses.
"You have no idea how many customers I have here from Britain and the US who say to me how glad they are that at least one country hasn't succumbed to political correctness," said Laurent Lefevre, owner of the Paris bar Au Metro.
"In a few months from now all my customers are going to be standing out on the street, which means in winter they won't come. What's going to be banned next? Sex?" Lefevre added.
Some dining establishment owners are not convinced a complete ban is the best way to balance enjoying life with improving public health.
"Protecting the public is a laudable aim," said Alain Dutournier, chef at the Michelin-starred Carré des Feuillants restaurant in Paris. "But smoking a cigarette or cigar after a meal is a comfort and pleasure which is part of the art of living."
The Union of Hospitality Trades (UMIH) has said that fewer than 3 percent of restaurants and bars can afford the investment involved in setting up sealed smoking areas.
Paris promises help for tobacconists
The health costs of smoking are becoming more recognized
The government has promised financial help to tobacconists -- many of them also bar and cafe owners -- who are already suffering from a downturn in sales caused by a 40 percent cigarette price hike in the last three years.
Trade Minister Renaud Dutreil has already announced a renegotiation of a contract agreed to three years ago to support tobacconists.
The plan, which provided 160 million euros support last year, is scheduled to end at the end of next 2007, but will be renegotiated to allow continued financial support, particularly to tobacconists in border zones.
Tobacco sales in France have fallen by 32 percent since the year 2003, partly due to cheaper cigarette prices in bordering countries. A total of 1,500 tobacconists have closed down since then, most of them in border areas
Public awareness of health risks
The move follows similar bans introduced in Ireland, Italy and Scotland triggered by changing public attitudes to smoking and growing acceptance of the risks of passive smoking.
According to Villepin, some 5,000 French people die every year from breathing other people's fumes, a situation he called "totally unacceptable situation in terms of public health."
Some 30 percent of France's adult population smokes and some 66,000 smokers die each year, according to government statistics.
Villepin said in northern Italy the number of under 60-year-olds suffering from cardiovascular illnesses fell by 10 percent in the five months following last year's smoking ban.
"We expect a very rapid improvement in public health," he said.
The state will pay a third of the cost of treatment for persons endeavoring to give up smoking, Villepin added.