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Germany Starts to Snuff Out Cigarettes

LIGHTING up in a restaurant is about as sacred to Germans as the right to barrel down an autobahn at breakneck speeds.

You can gag or point to your infant child - but the smoker at the next table might still keep taking drags between bites of bratwurst.

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Some German politicians, led by prominent opposition figure Ingrid Matthaeus-Maier, want to put an end to uncontrolled puffing.

They are proposing that smoking be banned at the workplace, in restaurants, in subway cars, and other public places, and that violators be fined.

The Federal Association for the Cigarette Industry, a lobbying group for the tobacco industry, doubts its adversaries will succeed.

``We figure that 70 to 80 percent of the populace is against legal restrictions on smoking,'' says Axel Heim, the group's general manager.

About one-third of the adult populace smokes, and Mr. Heim says Germans see smoking in public places as a democratic freedom.

In Germany, smokers don't usually have to worry about a lecture from a nonsmoker if they draw on a cigarette in public. Unlike in the United States, secondary smoke is not generally viewed as a health threat.

The federal railway has created no-smoking sections on its trains. Lufthansa, the national airline, has done the same on its flights. Some restaurants and offices have followed suit. But there is no law against smoking in public places.

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Roland Sauer, a lawmaker with Chancellor Helmut Kohl's Christian Democrats, says he wants to introduce a parliamentary bill this year that would make smokers go to designated areas to light up not only on airplanes, but also on subways, in restaurants, and at the workplace.

Smokers who violate the proposed law would be fined 100 marks ($57). Offending establishments and companies could be fined 5,000 marks (about $2,900).

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