petite anglaise

November 16, 2004

Vous avez du feu?

Filed under: french touch — petiteanglaiseparis @ 4:52 pm

I went out to lunch in a very down to earth bistrot close to my office yesterday, and I can still smell the smoke which permeated into the fibres of my coat as we ate. Arriving at the restaurant our eyes and noses were greeted by what I can only describe as a ‘fug’. More worrying than this is the fact that after approximately five minutes acclimatisation and one glass of wine, I ceased to notice the smoke. Unwittingly I must have passively smoked the equivalent of ten gauloises over the course of the meal.

While the English press is today bemoaning the fact that an outright ban of smoking in enclosed public places has not been proposed in the government White Paper on health, I can’t help thinking what an outcry a similar proposal would provoke in gauloise country, where most restaurants haven’t yet complied with the little enforced Loi Evin of 1991, by introducing a non-smoking section for their clientèle non-fumeur.

Smoking here is the norm. Twenty million plus French smokers fervently believe that their right to enjoy a cigarette is more important than a non-smoker’s right to breathe clean air. I recall two occasions in all the time I’ve spent in France where a person at the next table in a restaurant asked me if I minded them smoking while I ate. Usually after they had already lit up, which means I inevitably said ‘of course not, no problem’ whilst internally seething. Given the cosy proximity of tables in many restaurants I often literally have an ashtray right under my nose. If someone does dare to object – which I did occasionally when I was pregnant – they are seen as an unreasonable health freak and killjoy and will be the object of much discontented muttering. The fact that levels of cancer are higher here than elsewhere in the EU (20% higher among adult males than in the UK) does nothing to deter smokers, nor do the extra large warnings on cigarette packets or rising tobacco prices.

I know doctors who smoke. I have witnessed with my own eyes a heavily pregnant woman rush out of her final ante-natal class to light up in the hospital courtyard, and a young mother smoking a Gitane a few centimetres above the head of her newborn child, whom she was carrying in a sling at chest level. All of the above shocked me profoundly, but you’d be surprised at how often I have heard the bizarre argument that stopping smoking whilst pregnant was more harmful to the mother than it was beneficial to the baby.

The Frog is one of those rather foolish people who only took up smoking in his mid-twenties, when clearly he should have known better. He is what I would call a stress smoker, and I’m sure he smokes far more at work than he is willing to let on. Smoking at his desk is permitted, as he works in a closed office (as opposed to an open plan office) with other smokers. As long as this is the case, I think the Frog and many others like him will be fighting an uphill battle to kick the habit, despite his best intentions following the birth of Tadpole.

If I was going to be cynical, I’d say there is not much chance of the French government taking much action to address this major health problem. Especially given that the state is a major shareholder in the Franco-Spanish group Altadis, purveyor of fine tobacco products such as Gauloises and Gitanes…


  1. I was always seen as slightly excentric for not smoking when I lived in France. I particularly remember one evening utterly spoiled by cigarettes. I had been in England for one year and was back in France for a week; I was really looking forward to seeing my French friends, who I missed very much. We all piled up in a tiny student living-room; there were 12 of us and I was the only non-smoker. Of course, they all immediately proceeded to chain-smoke their way throught the evening. It was unbearable and I left early, very pissed off, mumbling vague excuses.

    As I’ve been forced to breathe other people’s smoke for 31 years (and really, really hate it), I don’t really feel sympathy for smokers who will have to go out to light up now in England. At least, they’ll still have the choice to smoke; I’ve never had the option to lead a smoke-free life.

    Comment by céline — November 16, 2004 @ 5:18 pm

  2. I’ve tried to convince myself that I’m used to it and there is no point in getting stressed over someone puffing smoke over my meal, into my hair, into my lungs, over my clothes, in my eyes … but I am still incredulous at the lack of awareness of other peoples’ discomfort. I reckon it will be at least 10 years before a smoking ban in France.

    Comment by lauren — November 16, 2004 @ 10:18 pm

  3. My parents have just returned from a 3 month trip to Europe – they haven’t mentioned the smoking much but then they’re outdoorsy people, who aren’t really into restaurants – they did mention that they found it a bit much on buses / trains etc …. in Australia the smokers are very very rapidly becoming the people who stand out … and instead of looking ‘normal’ a smoker appears, to many people, to be just plain UGLY. My overriding argument for not smoking is a picture taken about 10 years ago of my dad, his brother, and their 4 sisters ….. all of whom looked at least 10 years younger than their actual age EXCEPT for the one aunt who had chainsmoked since she was 14 – the other five had never smoked once in their lives …. end result 10 years later? she’s dead of liver and lung cancer … the other five still look a good 10 years younger than their chronological ages … and my uncle, the eldest at 74 could be taken for early 60s!!!! …. To be honest, I think the argument that would work to stop young girls in particular taking up smoking is to show them how truly UGLY it makes you look … they don’t care about cancer in the future, that’s just too far off – show them the wrinkles, the leathery skin, the yellow tinged fingernails, the horrible breath, the stained teeth ….. oh gross, gives me the shivers just talking about it!

    Comment by Miss Lisa — November 16, 2004 @ 11:21 pm

  4. As a smoker in the US, I am certainly an outcast. I feel that every day. Today a woman made a snide remark about me “smelling” like cigarettes. They’ve recently instituted a policy at my office building that we are not able to smoke anywhere but in the parking garage (in a special corner). I would never consider smoking in someone else’s house, around anyone else’s children, etc, but it has gone a bit too far here. We’ve gone from “protect people from the health risks associated with second hand smoke” to “smoking is icky and smells bad so no one should be allowed to do it.” It’s a bit much for me…

    Comment by Paul Hoch — November 16, 2004 @ 11:49 pm

  5. I have been living in North America for 10 years now and going back to France is always associated in my mind with the smell of the metro and cigarettes. it’s my petite madeleine de Proust, in a way.:smile:

    However, I don’t miss it so much that I would spend an entire night with smokers. It has gotten to the point that I get sick and cough much earlier than before when exposed to second hand smoke. As someone said in a previous message, I don’t have the choice not to inhale their smoke. It’s not a “choice” if they infringe on someone else’s lungs.

    At my work, the smokers have slowly been pushed further and further away. They now have to smoke outside in the cold, in the parking lot. I guess that will be an incentive to stop.

    Comment by sandrine — November 17, 2004 @ 12:49 am

  6. We need to swap venues for a day… Second hand smoke is impossible to find here in Seattle, WA USA. Even if you can find a smoker and nonchalantly sidle up to snag some, he or she will move their cigarette or even put it out.

    I was a smoker for 40 years. It was one of my skill groups. I don’t want to go back but the smell of someone else’s cigarette is heaven. Hmmm another reason to visit France!

    Comment by Susan Dennis — November 17, 2004 @ 12:59 am

  7. Hopefully the Scottish Executive will not capitulate to industry pressure and introduce the blanket ban on smoking in all public places, pubs and clubs included, which it has promised. Personally, in many ways, I believe a more expedient compromise would have been to allow smoking in certain clearly designated venues (i.e. with a Smoking Permitted sign on the entrance doors) to continue (which may, admittedly, smack of apartheid, yet which would at least permit freedom of choice, though I would be the first to acknowledge that if a non-smoker wanted to spend an evening of relaxation with evil weed-addicted friends that it would not solve much if the price of their company consisted of the stench of stale smoke you so eloquently described). One of the slogans in pubs and cafes here vaunts mutual tolerance and politeness, which, in practice, favours the smoker. Some of the most inveterate smokers I have encountered have belonged to the medical profession. It is a myth that knowledge or awareness of health damage automatically acts as a deterrent: humans are not purely rational animals (what a drab world it would be if our everw action were dictated by rational utility-based calculations!). I am no exception, scoffing chocolate whilst fully apprised of its artery-clogging properties. I recently lost my Mother to the cumulative effects of smoking: it was absolutely heartbreaking to witness her slow deterioration. She smoked throughout her pregnancy with me (when I quizzed my Father as to whether she had experienced any cravings, he laughed “Only for more cigarettes!”) and whilst I like to console myself that, as an academic, it did not inhibit my intellectual capacity, I did suffer severe bronchitis whilst growing up, a condition, which magically disappeared when I left home for university. I loathe the damage that smoking does to people, yet whilst tobacco duties account for such a substantial proportion of revenues we can expect little real progress…except in the rare instances where politicians are willing to show the courage of their convictions.

    Comment by Chameleon — November 17, 2004 @ 12:08 pm

  8. I’m neither anti nor pro smoking but I am pro my health. And smoking is not good for my health passively or individually.

    In a choice between a smokers right to smoke and a persons right to be in a place where smoke is not present then the latter should be King every time.

    The arguments for not having the ban are pretty thin to be honest though, ranging from:

    ‘smoking to be banned in food related establishments only’ – so people who buy food in pubs are more entitled to have their health looked after than people who merely want a drink? Does eating bring on the symptoms of smoking related diseases more than not eating?

    to: ‘it will just make me smoke more’ – well fine, that’s your daft fault but you wont be doing it near me,

    to: ‘smokers pay £8bn worth of taxes so are entitled to treatment on the NHS when falling ill’ – fair enough, as long as people with non-self inflicted problems aren’t behind you in the queue,

    to: ‘what am I going to do if I can’t have a smoke when I have a drink?’ – well, have a go at not smoking if you want a drink that much. Your choice.

    Comment by Watski — November 17, 2004 @ 4:21 pm

  9. Hey, we’re not all like that! You little Rosbeef shouldn’t be deceived by aparences and cliches!

    Comment by Nouwanda — November 17, 2004 @ 5:49 pm

  10. Yes smoking is the norm here. The very first time I arrived in France, waiting at Charles de Gaulle for my luggage to come by on the belt, I noticed two people lighting up. It’s too strange to be smoking at an airport when you’re not at the bar!

    Secondly, the other day, while I was karaoking, I noticed this extremely pregnant girl coming to sit next to me. So we all stopped smoking at our table…only to see her light up!!?! Too mad. Her whole table just watched her calmly smoking, no one said anything.

    Nouwanda, even if you’re not all like that, give me a break. The french don’t care about the non-smoking section, not just in bars, but everywhere in general.

    Comment by nardac — November 18, 2004 @ 2:18 am

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