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As France restricts smoking, `a world is collapsing'

No longer can people light up in many public places, and restaurants are next. The reality of health risks trumps the romantic image.

February 11, 2007|Elaine Ganley | Associated Press Writer

PARIS — Manuel Bussac predicts he will smoke more and work less now that France has banned smoking in public spaces. His firefighter friend, Bernard Geoffrey, says the ban will help him quit his pack-a-day habit.

Their opposing views reflect the divide over the latest push to wean France off cigarettes, a change that may alter the image of a country defined in part by its smoky cafes.

Effective Feb. 1, France's 15 million smokers are banned from lighting up in workplaces, schools, airports, hospitals and other "closed and covered" public places.

More than 175,000 agents are to enforce the ban, handing out fines of $88 for smokers and $174 for employers who look the other way.

In a year, the ban will extend to cafes and restaurants -- sure to be the moment of truth for a certain image of France, where writers like Albert Camus and Jean-Paul Sartre are remembered with cigarettes dangling from their mouths.

"A world is collapsing," writer Philippe Delerm wrote in a front-page ode to the cigarette in Le Monde newspaper, referring to the alluring image of the chain-smoking intellectual. "Those were good times. But nobody thought about the collateral damage."

Statistics -- such as 66,000 smoker deaths per year in France -- and changing norms are snuffing out the romance along with the cigarette.

Italy, Spain, Belgium, Britain and Ireland are all ahead of France in enacting broad smoking bans.

Despite staggered anti-smoking initiatives over more than a decade, French smokers had, so far, held sway as officials turned a blind eye to rule-bending.

Nearly a quarter of French people are smokers.

Bussac, 25, who works in real estate and smokes 15 cigarettes a day, is angry because the ban leaves him with no choice.

"It's the obligation that bothers me," he said, sitting at a sidewalk cafe with a pack of Marlboros planted squarely on the table.

Bussac says he has done his workplace smoking on his office balcony, allowing him to carry on with business on the telephone.

Now, he will have to smoke in the street.

At five minutes per cigarette, "I think I'll lose an hour of work," he said.

But will the ban incite him to cut down or stop smoking?

"On the contrary," he said. "I'll smoke more now."

Some people clearly need to have the choice made for them. Geoffrey, a 29-year-old firefighter from the southwest city of Nimes, is among them.

"If you have to go outside to smoke, you smoke less," Geoffrey said. "I'm going to stop in February, using my willpower. That's all."

For those lacking sufficient inner strength to break the habit, the government will help by reimbursing up to $65 per person per year for stop-smoking aids.

It will also allow companies to invest in strictly regulated special smoking rooms inside the workplace.

Gaelle Parlouer, 28, describes herself as a heavy smoker, but says she's happy about the ban because it will help her to cut down. But she refuses to quit.

"I will never stop smoking," she said. "We have just one life, so we should profit from the little pleasures."

Associated Press writer Marie-Laure Combes in Paris contributed to this report.

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