- The Washington Times - Monday, January 10, 2005

ROME — Smokers in Italy took their last puffs in smoky bars and trattorias yesterday, hours before the start of one of Europe’s toughest laws against smoking in public places.

The outdoors, private homes, and restaurants and bars with ventilated smoking rooms are the only places spared from the anti-smoking law. Enforcement began at 12:01 a.m. today, when many bars and clubs still were serving customers.

In a restaurant near Viterbo, north of Rome, a dozen cigar aficionados reserved a table for a kind of farewell dinner, promising to puff away on Tuscan and Cuban cigars between courses before the clock struck midnight, the Italian news agency ANSA reported.

“In the end, we’ll get used to not smoking in restaurants or bars, just like we’ve already had to do, for example, in trains and planes,” said Francesca Cola, 38, smoking a cigarette as she sat outside a cafe on Rome’s central Piazza Venezia.

Her annoyance, however, was plain.

“I think this is excessive zeal against smokers. It’s a witch hunt,” she said, adding a pledge to throw more dinner parties and eat out less frequently.

The law, which was championed by Health Minister Girolamo Sirchia, a physician, bans smoking on public transportation and in hospitals, cinemas and schools.

Smokers will face fines from $36 to $363 if caught lighting up where they should not — including in offices. Owners of premises who turn a blind eye to smoking face fines of as much as $2,904.

In a country in which restaurant diners rarely ask whether drifting smoke is bothersome to others, and doctors and visitors puff away in hospital corridors, about 26 percent of people smoke, Health Ministry figures show.

About 10 percent of Italian restaurants have separate smoking areas, restaurant lobbyists say.

Bars and restaurants have lobbied for more time to prepare no-smoking zones, but they were refused. The law, approved in 2003, was to have taken effect in December, but an extension was granted through the holiday period.

“I’m a smoker, but I think it’s a good thing both for people’s health and the hygiene of the place,” said Gianni Cristofani, 27, a barman at Trinity College Pub in Rome’s center.

Some newspapers greeted the ban with humor. An editorial cartoon on yesterday’s front page of the Turin daily La Stampa showed a prisoner about to be executed asking, “Can I smoke a last cigarette?” A soldier replies: “No. It could be bad for your health.”

It is not clear what impact the new smoking ban will have on the citizens of the medieval village of Capena, Italy, which on Jan. 18 will celebrate St. Anthony’s Day with the centuries-old custom of encouraging everyone — even small children — to light up.

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