France Considering Public Smoking Ban

A parliamentary panel in cigarette-friendly France called Tuesday for the government to ban smoking in public places like cafes and restaurants in less than a year — and floated the prospect of special "smoking rooms."

The government is expected to decide on the proposed ban on smoking in public areas by mid-October. France would join Ireland, Spain, Italy and Britain as countries that have adopted such measures.

In a symbolic gesture, the president of the French parliament's lower house said its tobacco shop will close Jan. 1. Jean-Louis said the chamber should set an example.

A ban would send a shock through France's smoker-friendly culture, where smoky cafes have long been redoubts of Paris' intelligentsia. The French presidency's Web site features a photo of a young President Jacques Chirac with a cigarette in his mouth.

It has come with health consequences. The panel said 3,000-5,000 people die every year in France from second-hand smoke. "The status quo is not acceptable," its report said.

The panel urged a ban on smoking in public places and offices no later than Sept. 1 next year, and rejected the possibility of smoking areas other than in "optional" closed smoking rooms with smoke-removal systems.

The smoking rooms would be "hermetically sealed spaces, equipped with smoke-extraction systems and strict health rules," the panel said. But in places like cafes, no table service would be allowed inside them in order to protect the health of waiters.

Socialist lawmaker Claude Evin, an anti-smoking crusader who headed the panel, said details of such smoking rooms remained to be worked out — but at first glance they appeared "virtually unfeasible."

The panel advised that the government adopt a ban by decree, because parliament's "heavy load" of business in coming months may make it difficult to legislate.

Evin and other supporters of a ban fear a decree would be too weak, insisting a parliamentary vote would carry the weight of law — and thus force people to comply.

A top hospitality industry association and a representative for France's tobacco vendors' union said their livelihoods would suffer.

"This is an extreme measure," said Rene Le Pape, the vendors' association representative, on RMC radio, saying his members wanted some exceptions — such as exemptions for bars that sell tobacco products.