Sunday, May 22, 2011

Tobacco Smoking Culture in France

Brief History of Attitude to Tobacco Smoking in France

The use of tobacco has been a big part of French culture. Most common is cigarette smoking. The word Cigarette is French. Nicotine is derived from the name, Jean Nicot, who was a French diplomat that introduced tobacco to France in the 16th century.

The two most popular, Gitanes and Gauloises cigarettes have been the icons in smoking for decades.

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A quarter of France's 60 million people smoke, 66,000 die annually and 5,000 die from second hand smoke. It is among the highest of countries world-wide. 39% of adult males smoke and 27% of females in France smoke. More the 40% are between the ages of 18-24.

Since 1976 smoking in France has become stricter and bans have been put into place.  On November 2nd, 1992 France became the first European nation to put a ban on smoking in offices and nightclubs. On February 1st, 2007 France imposed a ban on smoking in French schools, shops, offices and other public places.  On January 2nd 2008 a smoking ban went into effect for bars, restaurants, nightclubs, and cafes. Now smokers must either go into special areas or go outside. These areas are ventilated smoking rooms.  The fine for breaking the no-smoking rule is about $93 for persons and about $198 for the establishment.

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City of Lighters

Art Buchwald, a world-class columnist who lived, ate, loved, drank & wrote in Paris for almost 2 decades (post WWII until the Kennedy administration of 1960) died April 2011 at age 81.

A true Paris gourmand, writer, flaneur, and former notorious cigar smoker, known for ruining other peoples meals at Coupole and Tour d'Argent with his awful stogies had some great quotes about Paris / smoking in his Washington Post column. Here are some quotes from his post Adieu to the City of Lighters, written in the last year of his life:

"It is hard to imagine France as a smoke-free country.”


“Only the old movies will show people smoking. If "Casablanca" were filmed today, Humphrey Bogart's nightclub would have signs all over it saying "Sans Fumee" (No Smoking).

“Imagine the hookers in Pigalle standing in doorways, biting their nails.”

“A French friend, Henri Fouquet, said, "When Americans stopped smoking, their culture went downhill. It will happen in France."



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Smoking Ban Opposition

Despite an annual smoking-related death toll of 65,000, many French continue to see smoking as chic, sophisticated and romantic. They point out that most of the icons of modern French culture, from Jean-Paul Sartre to Brigitte Bardot, have been smokers, and portray the politicians who want to make them give up as hypocrites.

The law was drafted under former president Jacques Chirac, who, according to a recent unauthorized biography, slept with a packet of Marlboros on his bedside table. The taste for nicotine remains particularly strong among the young. To French adolescents, particularly those raised amid the bourgeoisie, starting to smoke is as much a rite of passage as declaring yourself to be a Trotskyist or buying a moped.

It is calculated that more than half of 15- to 25-year-olds smoke, the highest proportion in the European Union. Efforts to dissuade them have persistently backfired. An expensive anti-smoking campaign featuring the football hero Zinedine Zidane collapsed ignominiously a few years ago when "Zizou" was photographed behind his team's dug-out, drawing on a Gauloise.

"Basically, the government has dumped the whole problem on us," says René la Pape, the Paris-based president of the 19,000-strong café-owners' union. The downslide in popularity of the French café (at least two go out of business every day) is so tragic a problem to the French people that politicians are considering subsidies to keep them alive.

"They want to look as though they are being socially responsible, but they don't understand how a cafe works, or why customers come here. Smoking is a part of French life. We have already lost thousands of traditional cafes. Do we want to kill off the rest?"

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This sort of appeal has a strong public resonance. Although polls originally showed a large majority for the ban, support appears to be weakening. Writers and intellectuals, mindful of what Jean-Claude Blondel, manager of the venerable Left Bank philosophers' hang-out Cafe de Flore, calls "the shared history of smoking and ideas", are also voicing concern.

"A world is collapsing," mourned the novelist Philippe Delerm in Le Monde. "Once it was as though intellectual life, invective and seduction could only exist in a cloud of smoke. Those were the days. Smoking may kill, but life kills, too, in just as insidious a way."

"Look at the old photographs," adds Blondel. "Sartre, de Beauvoir, Colette, Camus, they all smoked." So they did, although at a recent exhibition dedicated to Sartre, the philosopher's trademark cigarette was airbrushed out as a condition of state funding.

The opposition to the smoking ban in France grows, both in terms of size and diversity of the methods. Multiple websites help smokers find French cafes where they can light up, for example. But one man has taken his protest to a higher level.

In January of 2010, Christophe Cedat, owner of the Cafe 203 in Lyon, set out to smoke two packs of cigarettes a day — just to see what it would to do to his body. Cedat, who is in his 40s, had not smoked in decades. He is documenting his experience with graphics showing the number of cigarettes he has smoked since January, and updates on his physical and mental health. Ironically, prior to the smoking ban Cedat had opened one of France’s first non-smoking cafes. Fast-forward to today and he has a mini-van filled with thousands of cigarette butts, which he displays like a work of art. But Cedat said he is not out for publicity.

“I do it to feel what it’s like to be a smoker,” he said. “I wanted to experiment the daily life of a smoker. It is a social activity, smokers give cigarettes to each others, you know, they lend their lighters.”Of course to keep up his experiment, Cedat needs to smoke even when he doesn’t feel like it. But he said that there are three cigarettes that he always enjoys: “the first one in the morning, then after coffee and after dinner. These give rhythm to your day, they are like little rewards.”

But isn’t he worried about his health? “I am not a crazy adventurer,” Cedat said. “I have two kids, and my business is thriving.” A cardiologist and a psychologist have been monitoring him, he added. And he actually reduced his daily cigarette intake by half a pack after his doctor told him that he might die from a cardiac spasm if he kept smoking two packs a day.

Cedat intends to defend smokers’ rights, even though he was not one of them just four months ago.“The issue with tobacco,” he said, “is that there are about 15 million smokers in France, you can’t treat them so harshly. I don’t understand why this law is so strict, when in other areas things are much more flexible.”His cafe is now among France’s few smoking bars. He got around the ban by building a large, covered terrace. “I am an explorer,” Cedat said. “My cafe, for instance, is a fantastic social lab.”

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