"The French will never stand for it" they said when France brought in a smoking ban in 2007. This view echoed the "New Yorkers will never stand for it" and "the Irish will never stand for it" of previous years. It is a paradox often remarked upon that it was the very people who had the greatest reputation for being rebels, free spirits or plain stubborn who were also the first to embrace, or at least tolerate, total smoking bans.
If you'd have said the Croats, Germans or the Dutch wouldn't stand for it, you'd have been right. Smoking bans there were watered down or abandoned after public protests and lawsuits. Across most of the rest of Europe, smoking bans had enough exemptions to accommodate smokers in the first place. The comprehensive, zero exemption smoking ban is, as I have said before, almost uniquely associated with the English speaking world. The one notable exception is France.
I haven't been to France since they brought in their ban. I have witnessed at first hand the smoking ban being overtly flouted in England and America. I have heard that New York has many places where the ban is ignored. I believe many pubs in Ireland bring out the ash trays after hours. But I have heard that the French have complied willingly.
This compliance, it seems, is no more. The French may not have rebelled at first, but it was always in the post. Compare and contrast these reports from Time magazine. The first is from February 2007, the second from the current edition:
No (Revolutionary) Fire as France Curbs SmokeAnyone expecting a great national rebellion bringing millions of irascible Gauloise-puffing Gauls to the barricades in defiance of authority and good sense will have been disappointed: France's nearly 15 million smokers meekly complied with the Feb. 1 law obliging them to haul their (cigarette) butts outside if they want to light up, or risk a hefty fine should they continue smoking in enclosed spaces. In fact, that relatively docile compliance with a liberty-restricting measure represented as significant a revolution in French cultural attitudes as does the state's health-driven campaign against tobacco.
"It's a pain, but that's the law, and the bosses are applying it," says a 34 year-old supermarket employee named Christophe who declined to give his last name as he paced the sidewalk for his smoke. Before the ban, Christophe says he and fellow inhalers were allowed to smoke in the large storage room in the central-Paris supermarket. "Now we can't and we're out here," he says, shrugging between drags. "That's life."
Smoking Ban? The French Light Up Again in PublicWhen France outlawed smoking in public places three years ago, residents took the news remarkably — almost shockingly — well. Almost overnight, cigarettes vanished from offices, restaurants, cafés and train stations as the French dutifully took their glowing butts outside — the only place where smoking was still permitted. But this being France, a backlash was almost certainly inevitable. According to a report released on Dec. 17 by an anti-smoking group, the initial obeisance of French smokers has now given way to people increasingly flaunting the law by lighting up indoors.
Anecdotal evidence abounds that French smokers are pushing back in ways that they previously didn't dare. On some French train lines — all of which are officially non-smoking — smokers frequently take over certain cars, thus far escaping punishment. Butts are also turning up in greater numbers in Paris' Metro. "I'm not bothering anyone, and if I am, they can go to another part of the platform," says a man who identified himself only as Adel as he smoked in the Etienne Marcel station recently. "If I see a Metro official, cop or someone who looks like they'll be a real pain, I won't light up. But otherwise, why shouldn't I smoke in the Metro when I want to and can get away with it? Especially because there are far worse smells in here than smoke!"
Down the street from the station, the manager of a plastic-enclosed caféterrace similarly rationalized bending the rules. "This is outside, and it's the only place where smokers are allowed, so it's all legal," says the man, who, perhaps aware that his enclosed smoking terrace is not actually kosher, requested that neither his name nor the name of his establishment be identified. "We have to live together, and this is one compromise to make that happen. Do you see anyone complaining?"