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Italy snuffs out smoking in most bars, restaurants

ROME -- Smokers in Italy took their last puffs in bars and trattorias yesterday, hours before the start of one of Europe's toughest laws against smoking in public places.

Spared from the antismoking law are the outdoors, private homes, and restaurants and bars with ventilated smoking rooms. Enforcement was set to begin at 12:01 a.m. today, when many bars and clubs still were serving customers.

In a restaurant near Viterbo, north of Rome, a dozen cigar aficionados reserved a table for a kind of farewell dinner, promising to puff away on Tuscan and Cuban cigars between courses before the clock struck midnight, the Italian news agency ANSA reported.

"In the end we'll get used to not smoking in restaurants or bars, just like we've already had to do, for example, in trains and planes," said Francesca Cola, 38, who was smoking a cigarette as she sat outside a caf on Rome's central Piazza Venezia.

Her annoyance was plain. "I think this is excessive zeal against smokers. It's a witch hunt," she said, adding a pledge to throw more dinner parties and eat out less frequently.

The law, championed by Health Minister Girolamo Sirchia, a physician, bans smoking on public transportation and in hospitals, cinemas, and schools.

Smokers will face fines from $36 to $363 if caught lighting up where they should not, including offices. Owners of premises who ignore the law face fines as high as $2,904.

In a country where diners rarely ask whether drifting smoke is bothersome to others and doctors and visitors puff away in hospital corridors, about 26 percent of people smoke, according to Health Ministry figures.

About 10 percent of Italian restaurants have separate smoking areas, according to restaurant lobbyists.

Bars and restaurants have lobbied for more time to prepare no-smoking zones, but they were refused.

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