French ban on smoking

France has come kicking and screaming into the 21st Century with a ban on smoking in public places. The ban had been approved and came into effect on New Year’s Day in 2007.

Now they’ve gone one step further and are going to ban smoking in restaurants on the 1st January 2008. Now this is quite a shock for me because I can’t believe that there won’t be another French Revolution over this issue.

Imagine a typical Frenchman, a sodden cigarette hanging precariously from his bottom lip while he talks, sings, eats and prepares food. Apparently, there are only 14 million of these in France, which surprises me. I would have thought there were more smokers than that in France. So much for perception.

But those 14 million are not about to throw away their cigarettes without a fight. As one owner of a restaurant, a chap called Martini, put it, it’s a Gallic right:

We’re not going to accept it. We’re going to rebel. This is going to be a revolution,” said M Martini, walking across a thick layer of cigarette stubs on the floor.

Funny how people talk about democratic rights when they actually mean “it’s gonna cost me plenty.” I find it strange that people should be demanding the right to pollute the atmosphere by blowing stinking smoke on non-smokers.

The last time I was in France I thought the country reeked of cigarette smoke. Visiting a restaurant meant inhaling the stench of Gaulloises. It was very unpleasant. What made it worse was that the patrons insisted on bringing their dogs inside with them and feeding them in the restaurant.

It’s true that French people are not known for their hygiene. Quite frankly, they smell. It has something to do with the food they eat…lots of roquefort cheese combined with cigarette smoke and then there’s the reluctance of the French women to shave under their armpits. Apparently, it is a turn on for some men.

Seems like fifty million Frenchmen can be wrong. Or perhaps they have just been desensitised.

The other reason that France has a distinctive odour is its lack of public conveniences. Many restaurants have none and if they exist then they are located in the bowels of the Earth. You take your life in your hands when you descend into one of those repulsive “bathrooms” where you pay to pee. It is all so Victorian. And that is why people pee outside along a wall, against someone else’s car, or inside doorways and elevators.

Peeing alfresco is also a custom in England and that’s because of the exorbitant charges for using a public loo. Stores like Marks and Spencers don’t even offer conveniences because of the prevalence of shoplifting. That’s what I was told by M&S staff when I asked where the toilet facilities were.

Speaking of hygiene, I remember being taken aback as I watched the English film, “Four Wedding and a Funeral” a few years ago. On four consecutive mornings, Hugh Grant went to bed in his dinner suit and then went straight to another social function without having a shower or bath. What struck me about this is that to the Brits this seemed quite normal. Even the debonair Hugh would lose his charm after a heavy night, I suspect, and after four nights well, you would really know when he made his entrance.

Which is why I appreciate what we have in Australia. The country is clean and so are its people. We shower at least once a day, and make using a deodorant the eleventh commandment. One could say that it’s because Australia has a hot climate but Swedes wash often too and it’s obviously not because of the heat. Even Aussies who live in cooler climates wouldn’t think of missing out on a daily shower or bath. What began as a necessity because of the heat has become part of Aussie culture.

When Australia decided to ban smoking there were protests as well, particularly by pub owners and casino interests. Profits would suffer, they warned. “We are losing our democratic rights. Second-hand smoke is not a problem… blah blah.” Well, gambling is still thriving, much to the dismay of the anti-gambling lobby, drinking is still continuing, and restaurants are flourishing because non-smokers can now enjoy a meal without somebody stinking the place out.

Would I like people to give up smoking? Of course I would because it’s costing millions in medical treatment for those affected by smoking. But smokers are very aware that cigarettes are hazardous to health and if they still want to smoke, in their cars or their homes, wherever it’s legal, then I’ll not interfere. As long as they don’t smoke near me.

I hope that the French have a peaceful transition while becoming public non-smokers. In the end, it’s well worth it.

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