The typical image of a Frenchman includes not only the beret and the cynical attitude but also the ever-present cigarette dangling from the corner of his mouth. No more, it seems.
As of Tuesday and the start of a new year, most of France is going smokeless. The bistros, bars, corner cafes and other public areas that used to be populated by smoking French now prohibit smoking.
Smokers now must retreat to the sidewalk to puff on their Gitanes and Gauloises. But while some have complained, many others have accepted the new regime with another typically French reaction -- a shrug of the shoulders.
Some, in fact, welcome the new ban as an incentive to quit smoking. And thousands of others welcome the smoke-free environment in cafes and restaurants that allows diners to enjoy their meals without the distraction of wafting smoke.
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Under France's ban, those caught lighting up inside face a $93 fine. Owners who turn a blind eye to smoking in their establishments can be fined $198.
It is worth noting that about a quarter of France's 60 million people smoke. That is among the higher smoking rates worldwide.
Only about 21 percent of Americans smoke, and the number has declined for decades. Anti-smoking advocates hold out hope that the number will drop to 15 percent by 2010.
The point is, if France can ban smoking in most public buildings without inviting another attack on the Bastille, the United States should have even less trouble invoking such a ban. The international trend clearly is moving toward protecting people from the well-documented hazards of secondhand smoke, and the United States should get on board.
As of Tuesday, France instituted a ban on smoking in most public buildings.