Smoking in bars and restaurants is to be banned across most part of Germany from Tuesday. But establishments will be allowed to provide separate rooms for smoking unlike in France.
But smokers were under no pressure to stub out immediately at the stroke of midnight after the government said it would not send police out to enforce the ban during New Year's celebrations.
Advertisement"If some want to wait until January 2, we will be tolerant," Health Minister Roselyne Bachelot said hours before the ban came into force.
France joined Britain, Ireland and other European countries that have outlawed smoking when a ban in force since February in workplaces and other public areas was extended to cafes, restaurants and nightclubs.
Rejecting critics who assailed the ban as an attack on personal freedom, Bachelot said the measure would "enhance the freedom to walk into an establishment and savour clean air as well as good food and wine."
"Our objective isn't to annoy people, but to protect them. We shouldn't forget that every year 66,000 deaths are caused from smoking and 5,000 from second-hand smoke," said the minister.
Under France's anti-tobacco law, smokers who light up in public places face fines of up to 450 euros (645 dollars) while business owners can incur penalties of up to 750 euros for allowing smoking.
Adopted in 2006, the legislation gave cafes, restaurants and nightclubs an extra 11 months to set up separate smoking areas with ventilators, but few have taken on the large renovation and equipment costs.
Some groups representing cafe owners are fuming over the ban, arguing that it will cut business and unfairly places the onus on proprietors to clamp down on smokers.
"I invite Madame Bachelot to come to a country cafe and see whether the smoking ban is as easy to apply as she claims," said Rene Le Pape, president of the 30,000-member Confederation of Tobacconists.
In a final appeal, Le Pape urged the government to opt for a more flexible anti-tobacco law such as in Spain, where owners of smaller cafes are free to choose whether they want to be smoke-free.
Le Pape represents owners of "bar-tabacs", small cafes considered havens for smokers, especially in the French countryside where they serve as gregarious venues for story-swapping.
A junior minister and cigar aficionado also appealed to President Nicolas Sarkozy to declare an exemption for cafes in rural areas.
"Why didn't we manage to adopt a responsible system like the one for the Spaniards? We didn't have to go for the most drastic solution," said Andre Santini, the minister responsible for civil service.
Standing her ground, Bachelot said there would be no exemption to the law, which enjoys broad public support according to opinion polls.
Other interest groups in the restaurant industry have come out in favour of the ban, arguing that it will bring in a new clientele, such as families who for years have shunned smoky cafes.
Germany also took a big step toward becoming smoke-free on Tuesday when tobacco was banned in restaurants, bars and nightclubs in half of its 16 federal states including Bavaria.
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