Anyone caught smoking in a French school, hospital, metro station, office or sports hall on Thursday was liable for the first time to a stiff fine as the first stage of a two-step measure to ban smoking in all public places went into effect.

The ban covers schools, offices, shops, hospitals and doctors’ offices, sports halls, train stations, airports, all theatres and all public transport.

In 11 months, on Jan 1, 2008, the ban will then affect those public places now exempt: cafes, restaurants, hotels, casinos and discotheques.

The ban was enacted on Nov 15, 2006, by government decree rather than parliamentary vote. Polls have shown that a great majority of the French, and especially those who still smoked, were in favour of the ban.

A fine of 68 euros ($88) will be imposed on smokers caught breaking the no-smoking law. The fine for businesses who permit smoking in the workplace runs to 135 euros.

Some 175,000 agents will be deployed throughout France to survey the public areas and offices affected by the ban.

Via Web India