Like Big Macs, spandex and David Hasselhoff, nonsmoking sections in Europe are still regarded as somewhat boorish American cultural invasions. But in a grudging acknowledgment of the trend toward cleaner air and cleaner lungs, Parisian power-lunch restaurant Le Pichet has posted a sign stating NONSMOKERS TOLERATED. And by "tolerated," the proprietors of this beautiful-people bistro mean, Don't complain if smoke from the back room enshrouds your table or if the waiter flicks ashes on anyone who orders a Coke with ice.
Yes, dear tourists, as sure as Zagat's latest guide to Paris highlights hundreds of restaurants with nonsmoking sections, however ineffective they may be, the winds of (policy) change are threatening to blow more European smokers into separate rooms and even, in some countries, out the door. Although the Netherlands recently backpedaled on a planned ban on smoking in bars and restaurants, Norway's will take effect next spring. But the first European country to prohibit puffing in pubs will be Ireland, which is scheduled to ring in the New Year with a ban on smoking in all workplaces. But don't expect publicans to go gently into that good night.
"It smacks of dictatorship," says Glenn McLoughlin, manager of Limerick's White House, who has threatened to shutter the historic tavern on Jan. 1 because of the predicted loss in revenue. The controversial ban has been denounced not just by pub owners in County Kerry, who have vowed to ignore the new rule, but also by Ireland's own Environmental Minister--who, incidentally, smokes two packs a day.
Europe's grog shops may be underestimating the appeal of smokeless bars. Similar sky-is-falling predictions were made in California five years ago and in New York City last spring, but neither tourism nor bar business has dried up yet because of smoking bans. "The tide is turning," says David Byrne, European Commissioner for Health and Consumer Protection, who championed the E.U.'s banning of tobacco ads in print as well as on the radio and Internet, and has helped change Old World attitudes by attaching brusque warnings to cigarette packs like "Smoking can cause a slow and painful death." In France, where critics have made much of the widely flouted 1992 law requiring adequate ventilation of nonsmoking sections, the percentage of adults who smoke has dropped from 45% to 32% in the past decade. Europe as a whole has experienced a similar decline.
Not all of the recent smoking prohibitions have been prompted by health concerns. In Germany, the government began confining smokers in 64 of its busiest train stations to small areas at the far end of the platforms--not out of health concerns but over the $50 million it was spending each year picking butts off the tracks. Likewise, one of the Rhineland's top cabaret theaters started offering smoke-free entertainment largely because patrons of Bonn's Springmaus complained that coats hung in the foyer reeked of tobacco by the end of a show. "Now smokers have to smoke outside, no matter what the weather is like," says manager Andreas Etienne. Except, of course, on the four nights a week when smoking is still permitted.