French Smokers Find Ways to Cope with the Ban

Whether they're cutting down or shivering at outdoor tables, dedicated cigarette hounds are finding ways to deal with a new ban on smoking in cafes, bars and restaurants. Jan van der Made of Radio France International measures the lengths they'll go to.

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MIKE PESCA, host:

Cigarette is a French word. It's also a breakfast item for about one-fifth of those living in France.

Well, that might have changed over the New Year. The cafes that line Parisian corridors sits smoke-free after the French government implemented a smoking ban on cafes, bars and restaurants. That's right. People puffing away indoors can get a $600 ticket. Cafe owners can get over $1,000 fine.

Ireland's public places cut out smoking. Germany implemented a ban. Almost all other European nations have caught on to the trend, but we're really concern or at least worried and wondering about the French.

So Jan van der Made are you there?

Mr. JAN VAN DER MADE (Reporter, Radio France International): Yes, I'm here.

PESCA: You sure are. A reporter for Radio France International, as you know, but I'm not sure everyone else does. So what do the cafes look like today in France where it's a few hours ahead and there's a cafe culture going on as we speak. Are people smoking?

Mr. VAN DER MADE: Well, they're not. I went to a cafe this morning, and I talked to one of the owners, he said it's pretty empty for the time of the day. As you said, it's part of the French tradition to first grab a croissant in the morning, a little bread and then go to your bar and then have a little cigarette and a coffee, and so this tradition is now being broken. You see people standing outside the bars, looking a bit grumpy, puffing away there.

PESCA: Huh.

Mr. VAN DER MADE: But inside the bar so it's smoke-free at the moment.

PESCA: What do you - do you know, there's this big question in the United States, the French paradox. How do the French eat so much and manage to remain thin? Maybe the smoking, my theory, curbs appetite. So are people buying two croissants instead of one croissant and a cigarette?

Mr. VAN DER MADE: Well, they will find other ways. I talked to one of the union leaders of the overall French tobacco sellers and he said that people will be chased on the streets but it wouldn't prevent them from smoking. I talked to one of the cigarette salesmen and he said that the sales of the tobacco, at least, is at the moment is still stable. So people are not really deterred from that point.

PESCA: Hmm. The French are known for having relationship with their laws sometimes that they take them not as loss but as suggestions. I mean, there's a law against dogs in restaurants in France and yet when I go there everyone had their pet with them. So do you know are people really planning to take the law seriously and follow it to the letter?

Mr. VAN DER MADE: Well, it looks like it. We had here at the radio, as of January 1st last year, we had the same ban. And then there was a lot of discussion on the local Web site here as that it was an infringement over the smokers' rights and people are forming committees over sympathizers with smokers to go down with them all to six or seven floors of the building with (unintelligible) to go outside with them.

There was a lot of grumping and a lot of complaining but in the end, after a week or so I didn't see anybody smoking inside the building. So there is a lot of talk about it but in the end, people were kind of obediently stick to it.

PESCA: Now, you are a reporter for Radio France International. I know you've done some reporting on this, so who you've talked to about the ban?

Mr. VAN DER MADE: Well, I talked to, as I said, one of the union leaders of the tobacco sales persons and he says it's ridiculous. His argument was that the ban and chases the smokers to the streets and back to their homes and he said after all that's not very good because then the people are going to smoke in home and that's not good for the children.

So the arguments they used are a bit (Speaking in French) after (unintelligible) that it's not very healthy. But they try to find all kinds of arguments to still go on with it. They also find it's a bit anti-democratic that is not liberal France, after all they say its the country where liberalism was born and now there is such a law and, you know, they see it as a kind of dictatorship.

PESCA: But one of the reasons is that it was made by a decree and not by a vote of parliament so that would be anti-democratic.

Mr. VAN DER MADE: Yeah. And also the parliament - the current parliament is, of course, the majority is right wing.

PESCA: Mm-hmm.

Mr. VAN DER MADE: And in the left wing there was much more space for discussion. There's - in the law it says also that restaurants and bars can make places which are allowed for smokers but they are too expensive because they follow their rigorous laws. They have to be absolutely smoke-proof. They cannot let through any smoke so many bar owners I've talked to find it too expensive so they stick to that law.

PESCA: Well, I know you also talked to a tobacco shop owner named Malique(ph) and I think we have some tape of that, showed that Malique is very upset with the ban as you can imagine. You interviewed him a couple of months ago. Let's hear him.

(Soundbite of archived interview)

MALIQUE: I think it's unfortunate for people smoking inside a place like this because when you drink a coffee or beer you like to smoke, and if it's not allowed, it's like you don't respect the freedom of the human people.

Mr. VAN DER MADE: Do you think that people will actually stick to it?

MALIQUE: No. I don't think so. They like smoke. It's not (unintelligible) but they like to smoke. They can't live without this.

PESCA: Well, in France, quality of life is a huge issue. It's a way of life. What do you think of what Malique said the French can't live without smoking?

Mr. VAN DER MADE: Well, I think he's right. It's really a habit and as you said, one out of five of the French at least smoke so we talk about a large part of the population. It's a kind of, you know, the famous brands like Gitanes ,and they are part of the French symbols outside - in the outside world.

So it's going to be very hard for them to really stop it. But there are people who actually try to get around this law. For instance, there is a bar owner in Lyon, which the third largest city in France and he has suggested that the customers do some kind of what he calls artistic crime by smoking. He would do then make pictures of them and give to police who'd come in to give them a fine. He will say, well, I'm doing an artistic beat here.

PESCA: So he's using the French respect for the arts…

Mr. VAN DER MADE: Yes.

PESCA: …to let this people smoke.

Mr. VAN DER MADE: And in Italy they have a plan that they put a little booklet in - from the door and the customers who come in have they write down their names. So then they go in and they can have their dinner or their drink or whatever they want to have. And they can still put up a cigarette. When the police then comes to check them, the bar or restaurant owner can say, well, I'm sorry. This is a private party, and we can do what we want because the people put down their names in this little booklet.

I don't know if this is going to transpire into France. But that's the way the people try to find loopholes in the law.

PESCA: And I know you did speak to a smoker today on the streets. Let's hear some tape of that.

Unidentified Man #1: I agree with this law because - most of the people who don't smoke, it's not comfortable to eat or to drink a coffee in the area which is a no- smoking.

Unidentified Man #2: Yet, for people such as - you - smokers, it means that you have to go outside - like, today, it's one degree. It's drizzling a bit. It's not very pleasant. You can't go to a bar anymore to have a cigarette and a coffee.

Unidentified Man #3: Perhaps it's a good reason for - to stop smoking.

PESCA: Mm-hmm. By the way, I'm impressed. I do men-on-the-street interviews and I do them in English, but I'm in America.

Mr. VAN DER MADE: Yeah.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. VAN DER MADE: It's hard to find people who speak - it's just really a lucky strike, I must say.

PESCA: A Lucky Strike? Oh, no product placement. Well, thank you very much.

Jan van der Made, a reporter for Radio France International, has been speaking to us from Paris.

Again, thank you for joining us, Jan.

Mr. VAN DER MADE: Okay.

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