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Snacking tourists fined after Rome declares 'War on the Sandwich'

Andreas Solaro / AFP - Getty Images, file

Tourists seek shade from the sun on the steps of Piazza di Spagna in central Rome on July 30.

ROME -- It’s one of the highlights of any trip to Rome: Sitting on the Spanish Steps eating a real Italian gelato. But on Oct. 1, it became a potentially costly vacation memory.

The mayor of the "eternal city" has made it illegal to eat snacks and junk food on or around its monuments.

Tourists will still be allowed to eat while they walk, but stop with a bag of chips in your hands or sit down while chewing on your panino, and you are eligible for a fine of 25 to 500 euros ($32 to $650). An Italian daily newspaper dubbed it the “War on the Sandwich.”

Dressed in their white and blue uniforms, local police officers Alessio Valentini and Magdi Adib were on patrol Thursday looking for anyone daring to flout the new law.

They shoved away a group of young Dutch tourists who sat next to the Colosseum to enjoy their pizzas. “Go, go,” Adib told the bemused boys, who didn’t know which crime they had committed.

'Out of control'
The officers told NBC News they had fined seven tourists -- all foreigners -- since the morning. The standard penalty was 50 euros ($65).

“We could have given tickets to many more, but you have to apply some reason,” Adib said. “If they drink a bottle of water it’s OK, but if they camp out, we fine them.”

“Eating on monuments can really get out of control,” he added. “Once I caught a group of tourists who set a table on the Spanish Steps, with table cloth and cutlery! This has to stop.”

Andreas Solaro / AFP - Getty Images, file

Tourists enjoy ice cream in central Rome on July 30, before the new decree came into force.

Valentini agreed with his partner. “I once caught a tourist chopping a watermelon in the fountain at Piazza Navona,” he told NBC News. “Now we have a way to stop them.”

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A young German tourist, who was sitting nearby and eating a sandwich, couldn’t believe it at first when told about the decree.

“What? It’s full of food carts around here … where am I supposed to eat?” he said.

Tourists sitting on the Spanish Steps shared his bewilderment.

Both a Chinese tourist eating ice cream from a cup and a Romanian digging from a bag of chips while admiring the sunset over Via Condotti pointed out that there were no signs explaining the new law and asked how were they supposed to know about the rule.

When asked about this complaint, three local policemen patrolling the area told NBC News that there was no need for a sign.

“It’s common sense,” one officer said. “You can’t dirty such a beautiful and historical monument with ice cream and bread crumbs just because you can sit on it.”

They too had handed out many fines, but worried that in the end the penalty would not be paid.

“Most of them are foreigners, so I doubt they will pay the ticket before they go back to their countries," the officer said. "It’s more likely they’ll keep it as a souvenir."

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