As a nonsmoker living in Paris, I long ago learned that there’s no point in whining about the smoke level in cafes here, even if getting a quick espresso sometimes seemed more damaging for my lungs than working in a Chinese mine. Secondary smoke was one of those Parisian inconveniences (along with mean shopclerks and lack of decent peanut butter) that you just learned to live with. So this week’s ban on smoking in cafes, restaurants and bars has brought many unexpected breaths of fresh air. Most surprising of all has been the way the recalcitrant French have willingly complied with the new law. As of this writing, the ban has been in effect more than 24 hours, and there have been very few reported infractions, let alone riots in the streets. Of course, France is still France, so the national newspapers are jammed with philosophical essays wondering whether the new ban signals the final death knell for liberté, egalité and, especially, fraternité. In last weekend’s Journal de Dimanche, famed pundit Bernard Pivot predicted that cemeteries will soon have to offer separate sections for the remains of smokers and nonsmokers, and he wondered whether Heaven’s appeal will now be definitively eclipsed by that of Hell, where fire and smoke are presumably welcome. Another newspaper, Le Parisien, trotted out a quote from Moliere’s Don Juan, in which Sganarelle declares that “He who lives without tobacco doesn’t deserve to be alive.” So far, 60 million Frenchmen seem to disagree.
AP Photo/Remy de la Mauviniere