Source AP ©

Tobacconists strike in France against smoking ban

About 10,000 protesters, chiefly tobacconists, staged a walkout in Paris against a smoking ban in cafes that they fear may yield a loss to their businesses.

The demonstrators want a modification of the decree banning smoking in all cafes, restaurants and nightclubs at the start of 2008 so they can set up smoking rooms with ventilation in their establishments.

About 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 to make the anti-smoking measure more flexible.

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

The tobacconists, joined by members of cigar clubs and teahouse owners, insist the 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 meeting Tuesday with Health Minister Roselyne Bachelot disappointed and angry, saying there was a "total blockage."

Tobacconists fear they will lose clients if customers are unable to have a cigarette with their coffee. And they worry they 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 kilometers (miles) around.

French authorities have been trying to wean the nation off cigarettes 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.

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