French Smokers and Tobacco Sellers March Through City of Light to Protest Cigarette Ban in Cafes

Some 10,000 people, mainly tobacco sellers, marched through Paris on Wednesday to protest a smoking ban in French cafes as of Jan. 1.

The demonstrators want a modification to the decree banning their Gitanes, Gauloises and other brands of tobacco in all cafes, restaurants and nightclubs at the start of 2008 so that smoking rooms with ventilation can be set up in the establishments.

Some 10,000 protesters wearing Day-Glo vests marched from the Montparnasse train station to the National Assembly, the lower chamber of parliament, to press lawmakers into adding flexibility
to the anti-smoking measure.

The demonstration was one of a handful of protests this month - including crippling rail strikes - of reforms by President Nicolas Sarkozy aimed at modernizing France. The smoking ban was adopted before Sarkozy took office in May, however.

The tobacconists, joined by members of cigar clubs and teahouse owners, insist that changes they are seeking would respect the spirit of the decree.

Rene Le Pape, president of the Confederation of Tobacco Sellers, came away from a Tuesday meeting with Health Minister Roselyne Bachelot disappointed and angry, saying there was a "total blockage."

Tobacconists fear they will lose clients unable to have a cigarette with their coffee and will lose money on other products typically sold in "cafes tabacs" - cafes where cigarettes can be bought.

Those opposed to the ban also fear for the survival of cafes in rural areas, often the only community gathering spot for miles around.

French authorities have been trying to wean the nation off cigarettes in increments for years. A Feb. 1 ban on lighting up in workplaces, schools, airports, hospitals and other "closed and covered" public places like train stations forced France's smokers outdoors - but not out of cafes.