05 January 2008

Non-Fumeur Partout!

Woohoo! Finally, the monolithic French government imposes it's will upon the people in a way that I really appreciate. January 1st (actually, January 2nd following a one-day reprieve) marked the final step in the implementation of the nation-wide smoking ban in France. Now it is strictement interdit to smoke in any public place, including restaurants, bars, and clubs. Where it used to be the case that the “non-smoking” area was a table amid all of the others without any ashtrays, now any public interior space is a non-smoking area. Wonder of wonders, miracle of miracles! Here's a NYT article on the event:

Under a sweeping decree that took effect Wednesday, smoking has been banned in every commercial corner of “entertainment and conviviality” — from the toniest Parisian nightclub to the humblest village cafe.
No matter that cigarette is a French word. Or that the great icons of French creativity — Colette to Cocteau, Camus to Coco Chanel — all smoked. Or that Paris boasts a Museum of Smoking. Or, in fact, that Paris has named a street after Jean Nicot, the 16th-century French diplomat who took tobacco leaves imported from America to Catherine de Medici to treat her migraines. (Nicotine was named after him.)

One concern that I have is the fate of les bars chichas, the small smoking clubs, predominantly owned by Arabs, that are a central part to their subculture in France. Again, from the NYT article:
Indeed, in writing the ban, little thought seemed to have been given to the country’s 800 water-pipe tea houses, most of them extremely modest enterprises owned by ethnic Arabs.

“We have sacrificed everything to open these little places, borrowing money from our family members, using our cars and apartments as collateral, and what’s going to happen to us?” said Tariq el-Hamri, the 33-year-old owner of Dar Daffia (House of Hospitality), a water-pipe bar in Paris. “If the government wants to have healthy people, it should stop selling cigarettes — and alcohol.”

Mr. Hamri belongs to the Union of Hookah-Pipe Professionals, which plans to challenge the ban in French courts and is lobbying for the same exception for water-pipe smokers that is in effect in parts of the United States and Canada. Expensive and space-consuming hermetic sealing is not an option for most of them. “We are second-class citizens,” said Badri Helou, president of the union, which was created last February and has 270 members. “The reason you come to a water-pipe club is to smoke a water pipe. The mint tea and the pastries come afterward. We cannot survive on them. It would be as if you go to the movies and there’s no film — just popcorn.”

Apparently, there is a petition circulating to grant them an exception. I am sympathetic to their situation, but at the same time I find it difficult to justify giving them an exemption and no one else. Smoking at the bar with the morning coffee is also an important aspect of French culture for many of its citizens. It is true that the hookah bars have little else to offer, it will be interesting to see how they adapt.

For now, it's off to the cafés of Paris to enjoy a nice salade composée and the freshest air the city has to offer which, admittedly, is not that fresh to begin with.

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