France to introduce smoking ban after sharp rise in cigarette sales

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The French government is planning to ban smoking in all restaurants, some bars and almost all other "public" places from the new year.

Alarmed by signs of an increase in smoking in France, especially among the young, the Health Minister, Xavier Bertrand, said yesterday he would press ahead with radical restrictions on smoking in public. "I am convinced that the public now expects it of us," he said.

Exceptions will be made for casinos, discotheques and bars-tabacs - bars which have a licence to sell cigarettes. All other cafes and bars, all restaurants, shops and offices will be forced to ban smoking, probably from 1 January.

The ban would therefore be somewhat less draconian than the law which comes into effect in England next summer, banning smoking in all pubs, clubs and restaurants.

France has been slow to follow the restrictions on smoking in enclosed public places imposed by several European countries. Under existing French law, restaurants and cafés are supposed to restrict smokers to designated areas. In practice, the area set aside tends to be most of the restaurant and sometimes all of it.

In an interview with the newspaper, Le Figaro, M. Bertrand said that 66,000 people died in France each year from smoking-related illnesses. Of these, 5,000 were passive smokers.

A ban on smoking in public places would "make people see sense and change attitudes, just as we have achieved with road safety," he said. Road deaths in France have plummetted since the government began to enforce speed restrictions and other motoring laws rigorously four years ago.

After falling or remaining broadly static for three years, sales of cigarettes have increased sharply in France this year. Researchers have reported an increase in smoking among the young, especially young women.

M. Bertrand said that, to avoid political manoeuvres in the run-up to next spring's presidential elections, he would try to push through the smoking ban by edict. The Health Minister has, however, partially bowed to pressure from tobacconists by promising to exempt bar-tabacs, casinos and discos.

The news was greeted with resignation by restaurateurs and tobacco sellers and anger by some bar-owners and anti-tobacco campaigners. The anti-smoking lobby in France complained that it made no sense to ban cigarettes in some bars and not others. Gérard Audureau, president of the "non-smokers' association", said that it made even less sense to exempt discotheques, which were mostly used by young people.

The union of restaurant and hotel owners said that its members could now "live with" a complete smoking ban. Restarateurs have, in any case, been alarmed by a French appeal court judgment in June last year which opened the way to lawsuits from waiters and bar staff forced to work in rooms filled with tobacco smoke.