PARIS – France's most drastic measure to curb smoking went into effect Wednesday with a full ban on lighting up in cafes, restaurants and discotheques, a sea change for a country where the cigarette came to symbolize the French way of life.
A New Year's Day reprieve allowed revelers their last legal drags in public places before the new law took effect.
"You have to be vigilant. We caught one at the counter this morning," said Maria Boyer at a cafe near the famed Champs-Elysees.
"I just ask people to be nice and avoid the fines," she said, noting that cafe owners who ignore the ban must pay up, too.
Under the measure, those caught lighting up inside face a $93 fine, while owners who turn a blind eye to smoking in their establishments face a $198 fine.
About a quarter of France's 60 million people smoke. The Health Ministry said one in two regular smokers dies of a smoking-related illness here, and about 5,000 nonsmokers die each year from secondhand smoke.
Banning smoking everywhere but in private homes and in the streets is the latest measure in a progressive crackdown that began 15 years ago with the start of steady price hikes on cigarettes and a requirement that public places create nonsmoking areas — the first curb on smoking in cafes.
Last year, a prohibition against smoking in workplaces, schools, airports, train stations, hospitals and other "closed and covered" public places was reinforced. Restaurants and other so-called places of conviviality were given an extra 11 months to apply a full ban.
Smoking is now allowed only inside special sealed chambers, which are costly to install.
Over the years, the French have been weaning themselves of the habit, including by replacing the rich, dark tobacco of Gauloises or Gitanes cigarettes with lighter smokes.
But the smoke-filled cafe persisted as a symbol of Paris and all that it stood for in the popular imagination: rebellion, intellectual pursuits and "joie de vivre" — until Wednesday.
Between a predicted drop in sales of cigarettes and possible fines for failing to capture cheaters, Boyer is worried about the health of her cafe, which also sells cigarettes.
"This money will be missing from the coffers at the end of the year," she said. "There will be people without jobs."