(From the Sydney Morning Herald, January 2. 2008)
ONE of France's most iconic institutions, the smoky cafe, is set to become a hazy memory.
The extension of the country's smoking ban to bars, discotheques, restaurants, hotels, casinos and cafes on January 1 marked a momentous cultural shift in a country where thinkers such as Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir once held court while clutching cigarettes in Left Bank cafes.
For smokers this is the most distressing part of a phased smoking ban that began last February in workplaces, schools, airports, hospitals and other "closed and covered" public places such as train stations.
But many bartenders and restaurant workers are looking forward to breathing easier and to clothes that do not stink of odours absorbed from the clouds of smoke where they work.
"The French culture associated with smoking is a 20th-century thing but we won't forget the experience," the former smoker Lisa Zane, a Chicago-born singer who lives in Paris, said at Le Fumoir
(The Smoking Den), a restaurant and bar behind the Louvre. "Smoking seems insane now; we have to adapt."
The Health Ministry says one in two smokers here dies of smoking-related illness and about 5000 non-smokers die each year from effects of passive smoking. About a quarter of France's 60 million people are smokers.
Italy, Ireland and Britain previously enforced smoking bans but it is difficult to imagine the style-conscious French bundling up in blankets to smoke on chilly restaurant terraces, like some Londoners.
Almost anywhere indoors will be off-limits for smoking, except homes, hotel rooms and sealed smoking chambers at establishments that decide to provide them.
Many restaurateurs, cafe owners and disco operators, such as Christophe Mgo, the owner of the bar Le Marigny in Paris, fear lost business.
"There will be a drop, certainly," he said. "The tobacco-bar is part of the French tradition. They will surely stay less time and they will only drink one coffee or beer, instead of two."
A national union of disco owners has said it expects a 5 to 8 per cent decline in business initially, and has urged the Government to send pamphlets to police to show "understanding" in their enforcement of the ban.
About 10,000 protesters, mainly tobacco vendors, marched across Paris in November, and the Government said it would not strictly enforce the ban until January 2.
For many French smokers, such as Daniel Marierouyer at Le Fumoir, the bitterness could could take a long time to fade. "Great idea," he said sarcastically. "I love it when things get imposed on us - buckle your seatbelt; don't smoke; you need to be healthy; you're too fat."