France Set to Ban Smoking in Social Outlets

Starting New Year's Day, France bans smoking in bars, restaurants, nightclubs and cafes. It's a move with widespread public support, though some worry that a way of life may be lost, especially in small villages far from Paris where the cafe is often the only place for social interaction.

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On New Yea's Day, one of France's most iconic institution, the smoky cafe, will become a thing of the past. One year after smoking was banned in offices and public buildings, the ban is being extended to restaurants, bars, hotels, night clubs, and the cherished French cafe. With the new restrictions, some worry that a way of life maybe lost, especially in small villages far from Paris where the cafe is often the only place for social interaction.

Eleanor Beardsley reports.

(Soundbite of crowd)

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY: At Le Defoe Cafe(ph) in the tiny burgundy village of Venire le Lome(ph), a handful of costumers stands at the bar and sit at tables conversing over coffee or a beer. Nearly, every hand is holding a cigarette. Waffs of smoke float above their heads. Here, like in many small provincial towns, the local cafe is the heart of the community, the glue that holds it together, says costumer Maurice Sedoune(ph). Sedoune says he is afraid the smoking ban will change all that.

Mr. MAURICE SEDOUNE: (Through translator) Tabac is like a club. We are happy to be there after work. That's important, especially here in the countryside. If they take this away with all their laws, what will be left in life?

BEARDSLEY: The depot is also one of the France's 31,000 tabac. Tabacs or tobacco bars are the only place in France where cigarettes are sold. Even people who supported the smoking ban say that tabacs should have been exempted. The depot's owner, Jean Michel(ph) and Corinne Schneider(ph), live above their cafe. The Schneider say 90 percent of their clientele are smokers and may not linger here as before. They worry whether they'll be able to make ends meet after the ban goes into effect.

Ms. CORINNE SCHNEIDER (Café Bar Owner): (French spoken)

BEARDSLEY: The small towns are going to die because this law is going to destroy the conviniality(ph) in the bistro and bars, says Corinne Schneider. Her husband Jean Michel agrees. People are looking for conviviality and they want to come together in the morning to smoke, drink coffee and read their newspapers. And all of that will be destroyed.

While the Schneider's feels small cafe owner should be given the choice of keeping a smoking section, anti-smoking advocates say a total ban is the only way to protect workers from secondary smoke which they say kills 5,000 people a year in France. And poll show that nearly two-thirds of French people support the ban. France is only following in the footsteps of Ireland, Italy, Spain and England who have already banned smoking in bars and pubs. But somehow the ban seems a sacrilege in a country where national icons like Jean-Paul Sartre and singer Serge Gainsbourg were legendary chain smokers, and philosophizing over a drink and a cigarette at a local bistro has been way of life for as long as anyone can remember.

That kind of thinking is rubbish. Says Beloun Jei(ph), owner Lucdecano(ph), a cafe bar in Paris's (unintelligible).

Ms. BELOUN JEI (Owner, Lucdecano): (Through translator) When actors and news anchors quit smoking on the air, people said television wouldn't be the same. And now they are saying the same thing about cafes. But French cafe culture will still exist just under different conditions.

BEARDSLEY: For NPR News, I'm Eleanor Beardsley in Paris.

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