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Smoke-Filled Cafes Surviving No-Smoking Law

October 31, 1993

PARIS (AP) _ When France imposed strict anti-smoking rules a year ago, battle lines were hazy. Huffing ″Liberte 3/8,″ many smokers and even some non-smokers demanded the government leave their lungs alone.

On the law’s first anniversary Monday, both sides can claim victory. While the France of smoke-filled cafes remains largely unchanged, there is a greater awareness of non-smokers’ rights.

By neglecting to enforce the ban on smoking in enclosed public places, the government has avoided treading on sensitive French egos.

″The French don’t like laws to tell them what to do,″ said Maxine Clement, a spokeswoman for SEITA, the state-owned factory that produces pungent Gaullois cigarettes. ″Look on the street. You don’t see a lot of people crossing at the crosswalks.″

The Paris Metro, where maintenance crews once scraped up two or three tons of cigarette butts per day, is now almost smoke-free. Less than 1 percent of infractions in the subway involve tobacco, according to the transit authority.

Smoking is now banned in many areas of SEITA, Clement said, but workers refrain from lighting up more out of respect for non-smokers than compliance with the law.

″Since we represent the government and we make cigarettes, we set an example,″ she said.

Only one person is known to have been arrested for defying the law - a writer who deliberately smoked in the subway. Fines of up to $1,000 for companies and $100 for individuals have yet to be levied.

The law bans smoking in all enclosed public places and requires restaurants to offer no-smoking areas and proper ventillation and businesses to ensure non-smokers’ rights to clean air.

It was preceded by a ban on most tobacco advertising and accompanied by a staggered 30 percent hike in the cigarette tax.

About one-fourth of France’s 56 million people smoke. Cigarette sales declined in the first nine months of 1993 by 3.3 percent, according to the private Center for Documentation and Information on Tobacco - far short of the 9 percent drop predicted by anti-smoking groups.

Paul Rechter of the National Council of French Employers said the law is difficult to enforce in businesses and factories, but not hard to abide by.

″People are just trying to have respect for others’ needs,″ he said.

But neither courtesy nor controversy is enough to make people think twice before lighting up in cafes, traditional havens for smokers. Some cafe owners say that providing a non-smoking area, as required by the law, is an unnecessary inconvenience.

Nothing has changed at the St. Philippe cafe, near the Champs-Elysees. If a customer requests a smoke-free section, owner Clovis Bourel, a non-smoker, picks the least polluted corner.

″No one follows the no-smoking law,″ Bourel said. ″In cafes, managers make the law.″

But Rene Boussac, owner of Le Griffon cafe-restaurant down the street, is a smoker who thinks more about his customers’ needs. ″Now I open the door for circulation,″ he said.

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