France's hookah-pipe bars pleaded on Tuesday to be spared from a ban on smoking in cafes and restaurants which comes into force on January 1, warning it would put thousands of people out of work.
The number of tea shops offering the Oriental-style water pipes, used for smoking herbal fruits and tobacco, has more than doubled in France since 2000 as the trend caught on in France's North African community and beyond.
Some 200 bars, half of them in Paris, now serve an estimated one million customers each year, according to the Union of Hookah-Pipe Professionals (UPN).
From January 1, smoking will be forbidden in all French cafes, bars, casinos, nightclubs -- and hookah-pipe bars -- as part two of a ban on smoking in public places which has covered workplaces, schools and hospitals since February.
"This decree spells the certain death of hookah-pipe bars," the industry association warned in a statement.
"Our establishments support 4,000 staff across France and pay 35 million euros (50 million dollars) in value-added tax to the state," it said.
The UPN warned a provision allowing the creation of a sealed-off smoking section over one fifth of a bar's area, provided no services were offered in the room, was "inapplicable" for hookah-pipe bars.
Many are run by Muslims, who do not sell alcohol for religious reasons, and count on tobacco sales for their turnover.
The association also argued that many of the bars offered a "professional and social starting-block" for disaffected youths from rundown neighbourhoods, enabling them to set up in business.
French owners are hoping for an arrangement like the one reached in Quebec, where hookah-pipe bars were spared from a smoking ban adopted last year for cultural reasons -- although they are barred from serving food.
According to experts, hookah-pipe smoke is less irritant and contains less nicotine than cigarettes -- but they warn it remains a toxic susbtance, and that for the sheer amount of smoke inhaled, one pipe amounts to 40 cigarettes.