Thursday, 1 February 2007

End of smoking in public places in France

What could be more French than sitting in a cafe enjoying a coffee and a cigarette, watching the world go by?

Not any more. The plumes of smoke that once wreathed the great thoughts of Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus, as they puffed away at the café Les Deux Magots on the Left Bank, have been banished by the chill winds of change.

France has imposed a ban on smoking in public places, so Les Deux Magots is now strictly "non-fumeur": a smoke-free zone.

That famous French chain-smoker Serge Gainsbourg once sang an anthem to the habit, entitled "God smokes Havana cigars".

Well, if He does, He will no longer be smoking them in this cafe nor in many others - and absolutely not in offices or government buildings.

Perhaps surprisingly, the move is backed by a majority of the French, and even by a majority of smokers.

But restaurants, cafes, casinos and bars have until December to allow their customers to get used to the idea of their morning coffee without their "clope" or fag.

Yet the owner of Les Deux Magots, Catherine Mathivat, the great-grand-daughter of its original "patron", says she was keen to ban smoking as soon as possible, and is glad to be getting rid of the smoke.

"It will be good for the employees," she says, gesturing at the smartly-attired waiters.

"They are always in a smoky environment, and they get bronchitis and other diseases because of it.

But in a cafe across the river, the Sarah Bernhardt on Place du Chatelet, there is one last Frenchman willing to defy the ban.

Teacher Gregory Bianchi looks around, rolls a cigarette and defiantly lights up.

"I believe in the right to fresh air, but I believe that it's also a right to smoke in a public place," he says.

"This is supposed to be a place of pleasure where you can relax, and smoking is part of that. They should have smoking restaurants and bars, and non-smoking restaurants and bars. That would be fair."

From today, thousands of French police will have the right to stop and fine smokers they catch flouting the ban, with a penalty of 68 euros or just under £50.