French Say NON! to Smoking in Public Places

Quick, think of every French film you’ve ever seen. OK, now try to remember in both of them how many times the characters in the films smoked. A dozen? Twice that many? Now try to imagine a France where smoking is not allowed. Almost impossible, isn’t it? The image of the Frenchman — an arched eye-brow, a quiver of disdain on the lips — is almost incomplete without a thin Gauloises or Gitanes dangling from those lips. Jean-Paul Sartre smoked. Camus puffed vigorously. The fact is, smoking is, well, tres French.

But perhaps not anymore. As you may have heard this last week, after a five-month governmental inquiry, a government committee approved a proposal to ban smoking in public areas. That means that in places like cafes, hotels, restaurants, discos and casinos smoking might only be allowed in “hermetically sealed areas, furnished with air-extraction systems and subject to extremely rigorous health norms.”

The measure, while pleasing some, elicited a collective gasp across the country (as well as a few coughs), and while health advocates around the industrialized world certainly salute the effort, one must fear that something culturally has been lost. Not that this will stop people from smoking, but if the effort in the US is any indication, it should reduce it significantly. I or one, am not really sorry. It has long been a bother in pubs and cafes in Paris, London, Madrid, etc., to endure someone else’s health-harming puffery, but it is rather momentous when you think about it. I just wonder how the productivity of French intellectuals will now suffer. Perhaps they’ll turn to chew.