France's centre-right government has declared war on the quintessentially French habit of smoking, angering many teenagers who fear a slip into a "no fun"-state.

   

"We're not allowed to smoke anywhere on the school grounds any more. They treat us like babies," said Melodie Gambero, a 17-year-old student in Domont, north of Paris, who went on strike with fellow students last week against the new rules.

   

French law allows smoking at schools in designated areas, but the government, in its drive to crush the habit, is encouraging schools to become smoke-free zones.

 

One-day strike

   

"About half of all the students here smoke," said David Perochon, 19, adding a few hundred of the school's 1200 students had participated in the one-day strike, which had not succeeded in changing the headmistress's mind.

   

The controversial smoking rules are being introduced in many schools. Teachers are also trying to ban girls from showing off thongs and bellies above their low-cut trousers, provoking angry protests from fashion-conscious adolescents.

 

"Now that they have abolished the school's smoking zone, we're just lighting up behind the teachers' backs" 

Melodie Gambero,
student

Hitting the same nerve, a French advertising association this month took the unusual step of ordering an underwear maker to withdraw a billboard campaign for its thong range, depicting three scantily clad pole dancers, following public protests.

   

"It's the new government. They want to be seen as the tough guys on everything from security to smoking," Perochon said, lighting up a long-awaited cigarette after school closed.

   

"I can understand their anger," said Marc Decupper, 17, at a nearby school where students can still smoke during breaks. "We've always been allowed to smoke. Why should it change now?"

   

France's nine million smokers will suffer the price of a packet of cigarettes rising by 40 percent over the coming year as the government imposes new taxes to stop the habit, which kills tens of thousands of people in France each year.

   

"I know it's all meant to be for our own good," said Gambero. "But I do smoke, and the new rules will not make me stop. Now that they have abolished the school's smoking zone, we're just lighting up behind the teachers' backs."