The End of the French Lifestyle As We Know It?

SACRE BLEU! On January 2, a smoking ban went into effect in France's restaurants, bars and nightclubs, potentially changing forever the way the French eat, drink and dance.

Now, we're not silly enough to suggest that the ban would affect bookings to France, as plenty of other European countries have enacted similar bans and survived. Ireland was the first country to impose a comprehensive ban, in 2004, followed by Norway, Italy and a spate of other countries setting varying restrictions. Britain, Portugal and Sweden are said to be drafting non-smoking plans, while earlier this month Turkey's parliament approved a law to rid all bars, restaurants and coffeehouses of smoke by mid-2009.

Given how smoking is so ingrained in the essence of France (images of Coco Chanel and Brigitte Bardot come to mind), does the prohibition detract from France's charm?

"I think the charm of a French accent far outweighs the non-charm attached to the image of a dangling cigarette," says Kate Murphy, president of Uniglobe Wings Travel in Blue Bell, PA.

Others agree, perhaps accustomed to smoking bans in the United States. "Mais non! A champagne flute pressed to the lips is far sexier," says Suzanne Hall, senior director of marketing and development of land products, Ensemble Travel Group, based in New York City.

As always, there are skeptics. John Clifford of International Travel Management in San Diego doesn't believe much will change. "Most of the French will ignore the new laws and create controversy, angst and rebellion as they've done throughout history," he says. "It's in their blood as much as smoking is." Says Anastasia Mann, chairman and CEO of the Corniche Group in West Hollywood, CA: "The French people are not easily intimidated by rules."

Maybe this time will be different, as smokers who don't comply will be faced with fines ranging from $100 to $665, according to The New York Times.

For the last word, we go straight to the French. "It's better for our image," says Jean-Philippe Pérol, director for the Americas at Maison de la France. Non-smokers the world over tend to agree.

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