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Last Updated: Monday, 5 February 2007, 11:47 GMT
Tough times for French tobacco town
By Yvonne Murray
BBC News, Bergerac, France

Bergerac, on the banks of the Dordogne, is the heart of France's tobacco-growing region.

Historic pipes
Pipes in Bergerac's museum highlight France's smoking culture

It is surrounded by tobacco fields, home to Europe's last surviving tobacco museum and just up the road there is an institute dedicated to tobacco research.

But now, like everywhere in France, smokers can no longer light up in public places - including offices, factories, schools and on public transport.

Cafes, bars and restaurants have a year's grace, during which they can either set up a powerful extractor system inside a sealed room or send their smoking customers onto the streets.

Fines

Employers themselves will have to enforce the law.

If someone is caught smoking the employer could be fined 135 euros (89; $175), while the smoker would have to pay 68 euros.

In a law firm on the edge of town, Jean-Michel Monteil is looking forward to a smoke-free office.

You think of the poets - Verlaine and Rimbaud and Baudelaire. That's what tobacco does - it opens up other worlds
Bernard Clergeot
Museum curator

He will be telling people to go outside if they want to smoke, but he does have some concern about how often his staff will take cigarette breaks.

"In France we have a 35-hour week," he says. "If they go ten times a day to smoke outside, for 15 minutes each, we cannot accept that."

Tucked away on a cobbled street in Bergerac's old quarter is Europe's last surviving tobacco museum.

It has an impressive array of photographs, paintings and display cabinets packed with smoking paraphernalia, charting the history of the plant.

Curator Bernard Clergeot says France's "love" for tobacco is steeped in a rich history.

Gesturing to a painting of a glass of absinthe and clay pipe, he says: "You think of the poets - Verlaine and Rimbaud and Baudelaire. That's what tobacco does - it opens up other worlds."

'Harsh, friendless world'

Mr Clergeot says he does not want to appear to be promoting smoking - he gave up ten years ago. But he laments the end of the "conviviality" which he believes smoking represents.

Bergerac map
"Will tobacco survive this ban?" he asks. "If wine, tobacco - all the plants that make us human - disappear, what's left? A harsh, friendless world, that's what. Tobacco can't disappear, it can't."

At that most French of institutions, Le Tabac (tobacconist's) on the main square, the locals who drop in for a glass of wine and a cigarette after work are enraged.

"This isn't a free country anymore, it's not a democracy," one says. "We're being treated like children."

Old habits

About 66,000 people die in France every year due to smoking - and 6,000 of them have never smoked.

But one-third of French people are still lighting up and health campaigners fear the message is not getting through to the country's youth.

At the town hall, Bergerac's mayor Daniel Garrigue says he used to enjoy an occasional cigar at his desk but now he has to set an example and will not be smoking in the office anymore.

He believes the law will ultimately be successful and people just need time to get used to it.

But he does have some sympathy for workers in stressful jobs, particularly teachers and hospital workers.

"Tobacco was a way to dispel stress," he says. "In this kind of establishment, it's more difficult than elsewhere. It's not easy but it's the law and we will have to apply it."

Bergerac's long-held association with tobacco is unlikely to diminish.

The local institute is continuing to research the health properties of the plant for use in pharmaceuticals and for now the local tobacco farmers will continue to receive their subsidies.

But for the people of Bergerac, their freedom to smoke is on its way to join the other curiosities in the Tobacco Museum.


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