PARIS (Reuters) - Smoking restrictions tighten this week as France tries to drive the once-ubiquitous cigarette from public spaces, but many smokers are angry and deeply suspicious of government attempts to coax them into healthier habits.
From Thursday smoking will be banned in French schools, hospitals and youth centres. A wider ban from January 1, 2008 will incorporate bars, restaurants and workplaces.
It is a significant change in a country whose moody, chain-smoking filmstars have contributed to the air of glamour that can still cling to the cloud of a glowing Gauloise.
“It’s bullshit,” fumed Paris office worker Aida Malika, shivering outside her workplace in Paris.
“They’re taking away our small pleasures. They’re just treating us like cattle, that’s really what it is,” she said, before heading back to work.
Anyone who disobeys the ban faces a fine of 68 euros (35 pounds), while a building’s management could be fined 135 euros for allowing smoking to take place.
Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin said on Tuesday he realised the change would be difficult but the government would be helping people who wanted to give up smoking.
“We will have to convince people quickly of the benefits for public health, but it will move our country along in the right direction,” he told reporters.
Passive smoking kills around 5,000 people in France every year, in addition to 60,000 deaths caused by direct smoking, according to government figures.
The French move follows bans by Ireland, Italy and Sweden. EU Health Commissioner Markos Kyprianou has urged all countries in the 27-member bloc to introduce comprehensive bans.
Many office buildings and public institutions in France already enforce smoking bans and the speaker of the National Assembly set an example to the rest of the country last year by ordering the last tobacconist in the parliament to be closed.
The government has earmarked 100 million euros to help people stop smoking, for example by allowing them to claim up to 50 euros for cigarette substitutes like nicotine patches. Villepin said more measures may be considered.
Some smokers at least appeared resigned to the change.
“On the one hand, it’s a good opportunity to give up smoking, but on the other hand, I really don’t like the finger-pointing aspect of it,” said Jean-Pierre Rodin, a salesman enjoying a cigarette and coffee in a Paris bar.
“But that’s a bit what life is like these days,” he sighed. “Everything is regimented, everything has to be orderly.”
Additional reporting by Sophie Louet