A ban on smoking in France's cafes, restaurants and bars came into effect at the start of the New Year, with the health minister pledging clean air for all to enjoy along with fine food and wine.

But smokers were under no pressure to stub out immediately at the stroke of midnight after the government said it would not send police out to enforce the ban during New Year's celebrations.

'If some want to wait until 2 January, we will be tolerant,' Health Minister Roselyne Bachelot said hours before the ban came into force.

France joined Ireland, Britain and other European countries that have outlawed smoking when a ban in force since February in workplaces and other public areas was extended to cafes, restaurants and nightclubs.

Rejecting critics who assailed the ban as an attack on personal freedom, Ms Bachelot said the measure would 'enhance the freedom to walk into an establishment and savour clean air as well as good food and wine'.

'Our objective isn't to annoy people, but to protect them. We shouldn't forget that every year 66,000 deaths are caused from smoking and 5,000 from second-hand smoke,' said the minister.

Under France's anti-tobacco law, smokers who light up in public places face fines of up to €450 while business owners can incur penalties of up to €750 for allowing smoking.

Adopted in 2006, the legislation gave cafes, restaurants and nightclubs an extra 11 months to set up separate smoking areas with ventilators, but few have taken on the large renovation and equipment costs.

Germany also took a big step toward becoming smoke-free today when tobacco was banned in restaurants, bars and nightclubs in half of its 16 federal states, including Bavaria.