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…