Call to ban smoking on beaches stirs French

People relax on a temporary urban beach in Paris, near the Pont Neuf bridge, 20 July Parisians have been relaxing on temporary beaches along the Seine

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A call by France's health minister for local authorities to ban smoking in parks and on beaches has sparked debate as a heat wave grips the country.

Marisol Touraine told the Journal du Dimanche newspaper she wanted to see more tobacco-free zones, to protect children's health.

The Socialist minister said she hoped smoking would also be banned outside schools and on university campuses.

Smoke-free beaches have appeared in some French resorts in recent years.

The town of La Ciotat, near Marseille on the Mediterranean coast, was among the first to create such a beach in 2011, introducing a fine of 38 euros (£33; $50) for offenders.

Similar steps have been taken elsewhere in the world, notably in New York City, which prohibited smoking on beaches and in parks the same year.

'Much cleaner now'

Ms Touraine said: "Is it normal for mothers, fathers or nannies to smoke in a public park where children play? I don't think so. Tobacco kills..."

Start Quote

Moving away to have a smoke is less embarrassing now since we already do it in bars and restaurants”

End Quote Smoker named Virginie La Ciotat's Lumiere Beach

Her remarks were picked up by other newspapers, generating lively debates online.

Many readers welcomed the minister's proposal, with comments like "Anything that makes smokers see sense is good", but some accused the government of seeking to encroach on civil liberties.

One reader of Le Figaro, named only as Morpain, joked in an open letter to Ms Touraine that, given the continuing issue of mortality in the French population, she should ban childbirth in France "until the problem of eternal life is solved by scientific means".

A reporter for La Croix newspaper who visited La Ciotat's smoke-free Lumiere Beach found evidence that the ban was popular with smokers and non-smokers alike.

She interviewed a mother named Virginie smoking outside the entrance while her daughter played in the sand.

"My daughter used to dig up cigarette butts," the 35-year-old said. "Today the beach is much cleaner. And moving away to have a smoke is less embarrassing now since we already do it in bars and restaurants."

Active smoking is the prime cause of avoidable mortality in France and is regarded as being responsible for 90% of lung cancer cases and 73,000 premature deaths each year, according to the country's National Institute for Prevention and Health Education.

With temperatures reaching 33C in Paris and 37C on the French Riviera on Monday, people have been flocking to beaches and parks to cool off.

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