LA CIOTAT, France (AP) — A small town in Provence is attracting more vacationing families by turning a stretch of sun-drenched Mediterranean seafront into what it calls the first non-smoking beach in France.
The smoking ban came into effect earlier this summer, and compliance among the public at the packed beach has surprised even the city official who came up with the idea, deputy mayor for the environment, Noel Collura.
Similiar limits on smoking in French cafes, bars and restaurants are gradually undoing what was once a notoriously laissez-faire attitude to smoking.
Beachcombers who arrive at the "Plage Lumiere" beach pass under a large sign reminding them that smoking is off limits, and two cigarette-shaped ashtrays attached to the sign invite them to stub out their butts before they slather on the sun cream.
"We don't stop smokers from going elsewhere, but this one we want to reserve for nonsmokers, for mothers and children so they can make sand castles and not cigarette butt castles," said Collura.
The population of the small town of La Ciotat triples in summer, as vacationers from across France join day-trippers from the nearby city of Marseille rushing to stake their parasols on the sandy crescent lapped by gentle waves and dazzling turquoise waters.
The town of 34,000 is known as the birthplace of the traditional Provencal game Petanque, and it was the location for one of the first films in cinema history, the Lumiere brothers' "Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat."
Now it wants to be known for its clean and family-friendly beaches.
Collura contends that La Ciotat is the first and so-far only no-smoking beach in France — and Europe. The only place he found with a similar law is New York City, which earlier this year banned smoking from all city parks, beaches, boardwalks and pedestrian plazas.
La Ciotat's ban was a last resort after more gentle measures failed, said Collura.
"For years we sent people around the beach passing out ashtrays, we handed out pamphlets asking people to not drop their cigarette butts on the beach, but nothing worked," Collura said.
"We found that like anywhere else in the world, nothing will change unless there is the threat of a fine behind it," Collura said, "It's not enough just to hand out ashtrays."
Police, who already patrolled the beach before the ban, can hand out a euro35 ($50) fine to anyone seen lighting up on the sand. But Collura says so far peer pressure and gentle warnings have been enough.
A recent survey by polling agency Ifop showed three-quarters of French people support a beach smoking ban.
The nonsmoking policy only covers one part of La Ciotat's 8 miles (13 kilometers) of sea front, leaving smokers plenty of other places to go to smoke while they tan.
On a recent sunny day at La Ciotat's beach, smokers were obediently leaving the beach and taking their smoke breaks just outside the beach entrance, where a cafe has set up outdoor tables with a beach vista.
Few of the smokers complained about the new rule, like Eliane Namiach, a bathing-suited grandmother who lit up just under the beach's no-smoking sign. "It's super," said Namiach, who has made the trip from Marseille "three or four times" already since the ban took effect, each time coming to the nonsmoking beach. "Me personally, I have grandchildren, so I think it's very good. It doesn't bother me at all to leave the beach to smoke."
But there are limits to the smokers' tolerance.
"One nonsmoking beach is OK. But more than that, no," said Namiach.