Image: Cigarette in a Paris cafe.
Benoit Tessier  /  Reuters file
A woman smokes a cigarette during a coffee break at the counter of a French cafe in Paris, on Aug. 25.
updated 10/9/2006 2:36:35 PM ET 2006-10-09T18:36:35

French smokers fumed on Monday at the government’s decision to ban smoking in cafes and bars beginning in 2008, despite the pledge of 100 million euros of state funds to help people give up the habit and reduce smoking-related deaths.

French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin said on Sunday smoking would be banned in most public places in February and in bars, restaurants and night clubs in January 2008, following the example of other European countries such as Ireland and Italy.

France’s smokers, a quarter of the adult population, who have already been hit by sharp increases in taxes on tobacco and face a 183-euro ($230) fine for dropping a cigarette butt on Paris streets, saw the move as yet another attack on them.

“In two years they’ll ban us from eating bread,” Jean-Pierre Huck, 58, said as he smoked and sold cigarettes in “Le Balto,” a "bar-tabac," licensed to sell alcohol and tobacco, near the old Paris stock exchange.

The places the ban will first apply to include stations, museums, government offices and shops, many of which already ban smoking entirely or allow it only in designated areas.

Restaurants, night clubs and bar-tabacs have until Jan. 1, 2008, to comply with the ban, which is aimed at reducing the number of smokers killed by their habit in France from an estimated 66,000 a year.

“Tobacconists wanted a longer delay but that wouldn’t have been doing them a service. It would have been exposing them to the risk of legal action because they have the legal obligation to protect their workers from passive smoking,” Health Minister Xavier Bertrand told the French daily Le Parisien.

The government is earmarking 100 million euros to help people stop smoking, for example by allowing them to claim up to 50 euros from medical insurance for cigarette substitutes like nicotine patches, he added.

Some fatalistic
Economists said it was difficult to estimate what effect the ban would have on the public purse.

“(The effect) is very unclear,” Natexis Banques Populaires economist Marc Touati said when asked how the ban would impact pensions costs, social security payments and other budget items.

“In terms of growth, it will remain very marginal. Globally, I think it is a storm in a teacup. It’s mainly a storm for those who smoke,” Touati said.

Rene Le Pape, head of the Confederation of French Tobacconists, said he had called a special meeting to decide what action his members should take against the decision.

It would be “impossible” for bars to build the authorized well-ventilated, sealed smoking rooms of a limited size, where staff will not be allowed to serve customers, he said.

Other professions were more fatalistic.

“You can’t go against the flow of history,” said Patrick Malvaes, head of the National Society of Discotheques and Leisure Venues.

Many barmen said one year was too little to build 'aquariums' for smoking clients, and were unsure what to do.

“If we put them outside, they’ll have to pay a fine for throwing their cigarette butts away,” said Daniel Joulaud, 54, a barman at Le Beaujolais Drouot, a restaurant and wine bar off the upmarket Boulevard Haussmann.

Copyright 2012 Thomson Reuters. Click for restrictions.

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