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PARIS: In the new nonsmoking France, where café-goers and restaurateurs have made a remarkably quiet transition to the regime of not lighting up indoors, there remains an unexpected pocket of resistance: hookah bars.

The owner of one Paris hookah café says he has been on a hunger strike for two months to protest the ban on indoor smoking, which took effect Jan. 2. Other owners of "shisha bars," as the salons are known here, have simply chosen to break the law by continuing to offer customers tobacco in water pipes.

"We have no choice," said Badri Helou, president of the Hookah Professionals' Union. "If we don't offer what our customers used to come for, our companies will go bankrupt."

Hookah bars, which began springing up in France more than a decade ago, became increasingly popular across Europe, both among immigrants from Islamic countries and among the hip student crowd. Helou's union estimates that France had 800 hookah bars before the smoking ban, half of them in Paris or its suburbs, but that perhaps one-third have closed since the ban took effect.


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