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PAPEETE, Tahiti (Tahitipresse, Jan. 9) – The New Year began with good news and bad news for smokers in Tahiti. The good news is: you can continue smoking in bars and restaurants. The bad news is: but maybe not for much longer.

Although smoking in bars and restaurants is no longer legal throughout France since Jan. 1, Tahiti has yet to adopt the same prohibition. But it may not be far away from doing so because there is legislation in the works.

So in a few months, but certainly after the runoff election on Feb. 10 for the 57 French Polynesia Assembly seats, smoking in public places in Tahiti and Her Islands may also become illegal.

Although the French no-smoking law applies to all French overseas departments, French Polynesia is an overseas community, formerly known as a territory that has its own competence in the area of public health.

However, Tahiti's public health officials have been working for several months on a local legislative project that is modeled on the French law. "The trend is really to try and do the same thing as in France," said Dr. Marie-Françoise Brugiroux, head of the French Polynesia Center for Drug and Alcohol Dependence Consultation.

Public Health Department lawyers are working on the legislative project, which they hope can be presented to Tahiti's new government by at least May 31, the 20th Annual World No Tobacco Day sponsored by the World Health Organization.

Although Tahiti adopted a ban against smoking in public places in 1988, that ban does not apply to bars and restaurants, Dr. Brugiroux said.

While some bars and restaurants in Papeete have already taken the initiative to ban smoking, such is not the case with the vast majority of such establishments.

"That really doesn't bother me," said Stéphane, a restaurant owner in French Polynesia's capital. "We live in a land were there's the sun. Outdoor terraces reserve a place for smokers. And anyway, we will not have a choice."

Then he added, "But people don't understand the situation in Tahiti because since Jan. 1 some customers have been asking me if they can still smoke."

While those in Tahiti's restaurant business are not too worried about a non-smoking law hurting business turnover, they said the ban would mean less time that customers spend at the tables, which would mean consuming, and spending, less.

Confined places, such as bars and nightclubs, may encounter a different problem. For most nightclubs, a person leaving cannot return, so stepping outside for a smoke could become a more important, and difficult, decision to make.

In French Polynesia, the number of people who smoke is considered "average" compared with regional statistics and the trend is towards fewer smokers due to the increasing cost of tobacco products. However, many smokers in Tahiti prefer non-filtered cigarettes, which, although cheaper, are even more dangerous to one's health.

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