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    France introduces nationwide smoking ban January 1

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    PARIS, December 28 (RIA Novosti) - France will introduce a nationwide ban on smoking in most public places from January 1, 2008, the French health minister said Friday.

    Eleven months after smoking became illegal in offices, schools, hospitals, airports and train stations, Europe's heaviest smokers, the French will now be banned from smoking in cafes, bars, restaurants, hotels, clubs and casinos.

    "The ban has been ready for a year and everyone knows that it is coming into effect. No one can say they were taken by surprise," said Health Minister Roselyne Bachelot.

    However, the minister said the ban will be enforced gradually and police will be in no hurry to impose fines for those caught smoking on the first few days after New Year.

    Meanwhile, French cafe owners fear that they will lose clients and their profits could plunge. Owners of France's 800 shisha bars are particularly concerned by the new law fearing it will lead to mass closures.

    Psychologists also warned that the country with 15-million smokers could face a shock.

    France is the latest of the EU member states to ban smoking in public places.

    In 2004, Ireland became the first European country to introduce a comprehensive ban, prohibiting smoking in pubs, restaurants and other enclosed workplaces. Ireland's anti-smoking measures were followed by Italy, Norway, Sweden, the U.K, Denmark and Portugal.

    Other EU member states, including Belgium, Cyprus, Lithuania, Spain, Slovenia and the Netherlands have anti-smoking legislation, but there are some exceptions.

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