Pity the poor Parisian smoker! The great French smokeout officially began with the passing of 2007 (with a 24-hour grace period, of course – the French never give up easily – they must have their period of grace). As has been widely reported, it no longer is legal to smoke in bars, cafes, restaurants, hotels, or nightclubs anywhere in the country. Decry the ban all you want, dear smokers, but as far as I’m concerned the new restrictions represent the greatest advance to French civilization in modern times. Don't get me wrong - I have no objection to people wanting to smoke themselves to death – feel free to indulge! I certainly have no interest in standing in their way, especially if it means that it is easier to reserve in restaurants because there are fewer people alive who need to eat out. Believe me, I am as much a great proponent of individual freedoms and personal rights to liberty, fraternity, and equality as the next guy—just quit blowing your fucking smoke in my face (excuse my French, svp) and I’m sure we’ll get along fine.
Let me begin with a few statistics about the French love affair with tobacco. These statistics vary greatly by source, but I will clear up the essential question with one precise fact. How many cigarettes do the French smoke? Answer: A lot.
- despite recent declines, about 12-15 million French are still dependent
- 60,000 French die each year linked directly to tobacco consumption and 5,000 deaths linked to passive smoking
- average consumption = 14 cigarettes/day
- one French person out of three is a smoker (40% males, 27% females)
- passive smoking kills about 13 people a day in France (according to ex-PM de Villepin)
- contrary to popular belief, the French are not the most enthusiastic smokers in the European Union - they are eclipsed by the people of Greece, Cyprus, and Portugal
A non-smoker myself, I have reached the age where I can’t spend more than thirty seconds in the presence of a smoker without beginning to hack my guts out. To date, this rarely posed much of a problem when dining out. For the most part, restaurants were pretty sympathetic in actually adhering to the (then) law to provide a ‘non-fumeur’ section in their establishments. In some cases, this did not quite compute – I remember having lunch at a Leon’s (of mussels fame) and finding myself sitting at a table in the no smoking section, which was located on a slightly elevated terrace. Just below at ground level, patrons were smoking to their hearts content. Unfortunately for me and my fellow compatriots on the terrace, we received ample evidence of a well-known fact: smoke rises. Rises right onto our plates and into our mouths.
Okay, that was one isolated incident. But there are many other cases I can recall in which the smoking/no smoking demarcation was marked by nothing more than an imaginary line on the floor separating one row of tables from another. I remember an incident several years ago, not long after I had relocated to France, when my grasp of the French language was even more rudimentary than it is today. I was interrupted during my deep meditation on the contents of the largely incomprehensible menu by a nattily appointed gentleman sitting at the next table. Our tables resided in the non-fumeur, fumeur sections, respectively. My fellow diner was holding an unlit cigarette aloft, gesturing with it as a kind of exclamation as he asked me a question that I incorrectly assumed to mean 'do you have a light?' What he actually had asked was 'do you mind if I smoke?' My 'no, no monsieur' thus was understood as an assent, and within seconds the nattily appointed gentleman was blowing smoke rings across my table and into my face. At least he asked.In the past, the non-fumeur requirement essentially served to reduce non-smokers to the status of second-class citizens, shunted off as we were to claustrophobic, drably decorated, moldy and mildewed rooms off in the back of restaurants or across the street, around the corner, and deep into the gray, but smoke-free, heart of darkness. But, mon ami, the times they are a’changin.’ Not only can one breathe again while dining out, one can also sit at a table in the good room!
To be continued. . .