French smokers on Wednesday risked hefty fines for lighting up in cafes and restaurants as authorities began enforcing a smoking ban that went into effect on January 1.
After granting a one-day reprieve to smokers after the New Year festivities, Health Minister Roselyne Bachelot said some 200,000 public health inspectors, police and other state authorities would be on patrol to ensure the venues are smoke-free.
As of Wednesday, smokers who light up in cafes face fines of between 68 euros (100 dollars) to 450 euros while business owners can incur penalties of up to 750 euros for violations.
Bachelot was due later Wednesday to visit a Paris "brasserie" where ashtrays were stowed away early Tuesday as in most other restaurants where owners opted not to set up the costly enclosed smoking areas that are allowed under the law.
Cafes, restaurants, nightclubs and casinos joined the ban on smoking 11 months after it hit France's workplaces and other public areas, causing some grumbling but no outright opposition.
The ban signals a sizeable cultural shift for one of Europe's last smokers' bastions, particularly in Paris where cafe society and cigarettes have traditionally gone hand-in-hand.
A similar ban went into effect in eight of Germany's 16 states and in Portugal as part of a growing European anti-smoking wave that began when Ireland outlawed smoking in public places in 2004.
In Paris, many cafes put up no-smoking signs early Tuesday, forcing smokers to go outside and puff on their cigarettes in the cold.
"I'll get used to it," said Thomas Sechet, tossing his cigarette butt on a Paris boulevard sidewalk. "We've known for a while that this was coming."
There are about 13.5 million smokers in France, in a population of 60 million.
Despite opposition from some cafe and bar owners, the government says it is tackling a major public health challenge and hopes the ban will encourage smokers to kick the habit.
Tobacco is the leading cause of avoidable death in France, claiming the lives of 66,000 smokers per year while more than 5,000 non-smokers die of second-hand smoke, according to the health ministry.