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In French bistros, a smoke-free air of sophistication

Email|Print| Text size + By Elaine Ganley
Associated Press / January 3, 2008

PARIS - What's that nice smell? For drinkers and diners in France yesterday, the answer was fresh air.

France reshaped its image with a ban smoking in cafes, restaurants, and night spots, the most drastic measure yet to curb the habit in a country where cigarettes were long a potent lifestyle symbol.

Some diehard smokers blamed health-obsessed Americans for starting the trend. But others were delighted in being able to sip or serve a strong espresso without finishing the day with clothes smelling of second-hand smoke.

"It's a new art of living," Health Minister Roselyne Bachelot insisted on a visit to a cafe.

With the ban, France joined other European countries and more than two dozen US states, including Massachusetts, that have enacted anti-smoking restrictions. In 1994, California became the first state to ban smoking in restaurants and bars.

Turkey's Parliament was debating a proposal yesterday to ban smoking in all enclosed public areas, such as bars, restaurants and coffeehouses.

In France, a New Year's Day reprieve allowed revelers their last legal drags in public places before the law took effect, the latest measure in a progressive crackdown that began 15 years ago.

Those caught lighting up inside face a fine of about $90, while owners who turn a blind eye to smoking face a nearly $200 fine.

Some called it the end of an era in a nation that long portrayed the cigarette as a sign of freedom, rebellion, individualism, or even intellect, indeed, a certain idea of the country.

"They're banning tobacco practically like it's cocaine," said Jean-Yves Oussedik, drawing on his pipe - and braving a near-freezing chill - on the sidewalk terrace of cafe Les Deux Magots, a famed Left Bank institution. Outdoors is now the only place where smoking is allowed at cafes.

Such personalities as author Albert Camus and philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre smoked their cigarettes and pipes in the warm, leathery interior of Les Deux Magots, once a gathering place for literati.

The more than century-old establishment has forced smokers outside since February, when smoking was banned in offices, train stations, and other public places.

But has it lost its soul in the process?

"No," says a waiter there for the past 19 years who gave his name only as Gilles. "On the contrary, we are breathing."

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