France gets on the global bus with plan to ban public smoking

Special to the Times

WHEN John Banzhaf III, an executive for an anti-smoking group, was in Paris for the ninth World Congress on Tobacco or Health in 1994, he couldn't help but notice the irony. After sitting in meetings lobbying for nonsmokers' rights, he would walk outside into clouds of smoke.

"I rode on a bus, and the smoke was so thick I couldn't breathe," Banzhaf says. He forced open a window, and his fellow riders complained loudly about the chilly air. When they asked him to shut the window, he asked them to put out their cigarettes. They refused, and he refused to shut the window. The result was a standoff.

What a difference a dozen years can make.

Next year, France is due to go smoke-free -- or, as Banzhaf terms it, "virtually smoke-free" -- in public places. In 2008, French bars, nightclubs, restaurants and hotels (but not guest rooms) will have to ban smoking.

The French action is part of a trend. Worldwide, more countries are choosing to go smoke-free, says Banzhaf, executive director and chief counsel of Action on Smoking and Health, a Washington, D.C.-based anti-smoking organization.

In recent years, 15 countries have voted to prohibit smoking in most public places. Bans are already in place in Ireland, Italy, Norway, Scotland, Sweden, Bhutan and Uganda. Northern Ireland, Iceland and Finland will restrict smoking next year, he says; Lithuania in 2008.

In November, Hawaii became the 14th state to go smoke-free.

"It's a case of policy finally catching up to the science," says Ross Hammond, a spokesman for Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, another Washington, D.C.-based group that advocates for smoke-free policies globally.

As the smoke-free movement gains in popularity, additional countries will feel the pressure to take similar measures, experts say. When Ireland went smoke-free in 2004, it inspired policymakers in other countries to consider restrictions too. The thought was, "If the Irish can do it, we can do it," Hammond says.

A recent treaty is also fueling the trend. The Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, signed by member countries of the World Health Organization, went into effect in 2005 and provides protection to citizens from tobacco smoke exposure in workplaces, public transport and indoor public places.

"People are going to begin to expect smoke-free air when they travel," Banzhaf says.

Some hotel chains are banning smoking too. Marriott International took its 2,300 U.S. and Canadian properties smoke-free this fall, says Stephanie Hampton, a Marriott spokeswoman.

"It's been embraced enthusiastically by most of our guests," she says.

Westin Hotels introduced a smoke-free policy in 2005.

But smoky pockets remain. Among the worst: Eastern Europe and Indonesia, but others are still cloudy too. "China and Japan are far from smoke-free," Banzhaf says. "South America is still rather smoky."

He offers tips to make your travels as smoke-free as possible:

* Ask tour operators for a guarantee that there will be only no-smoking rooms and restaurants on the itinerary.

* Verify when making your own hotel reservations that the room and the property are smoke-free.

* When you arrive at a hotel at which you have reserved a nonsmoking room, ask to visit the room before accepting the key. If the room smells smoky, it's easier to change if your luggage has not yet been delivered and you're not yet in possession of the key.

For more tips, see


Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World