Au Revoir to the Smoke-Filled French Cafe

Tourists smoke on the outdoor terrace of a Paris restaurant. It is now illegal to light up inside bars and cafes in France, where cigarette smoking has long been part of the national persona.
Tourists smoke on the outdoor terrace of a Paris restaurant. It is now illegal to light up inside bars and cafes in France, where cigarette smoking has long been part of the national persona. (By Remy De La Mauviniere -- Associated Press)
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By Molly Moore and John Ward Anderson
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, January 3, 2008

PARIS, Jan. 2 -- In bars and cafes across Paris, in restaurants and casinos throughout France, the once-revered cigarette now is officially banned, relegating one of the Western world's last public smoking holdouts to the ashtray of history.

On Wednesday, the public act that perhaps most epitomized the French as sexy, debonair, sultry, brooding -- and perhaps more than a little susceptible to cancer -- was snuffed out by the government.

In a single day, Parisian dining establishments and watering holes acquired an entirely new atmosphere.

Davy Kazan took a deep breath and glanced incredulously around the boisterous dining room of the Vaudeville brasserie, which is usually blanketed with smoke by mid-evening.

"You can actually smell the food!" declared Kazan, 39, a Munich resident who is on a New Year's vacation in Paris.

He said he's also excited about returning home to visit his favorite sports bar, which became smoke-free Wednesday under tighter smoking restrictions imposed in many German cities and regions.

But Romain Lefevre, a 41-year-old real estate broker, was fuming in the now-smokeless bar of Le Beaujolais Cafe a block from the Eiffel Tower.

"Not smoking during dinner is not a problem, but after eating -- yes, I would like a cigarette with my coffee," said Lefevre, a pack-a-day smoker for 20 years.

In the end, the inconvenience, discomfort and impracticality of smoking in sometimes freezing outdoor air might force him to quit, he said. "And people suffer from cigarette cancer," he noted. "And it costs too much, so is it a good idea to ban smoking?" He shrugged. "Perhaps."

The ban came as no surprise. After intense lobbying, eating and drinking establishments were granted an 11-month stay of execution from a law that was imposed on all other public facilities last year.

The government even offered a final New Year's concession: It delayed imposition of the law from Jan. 1 until Wednesday to allow smokers a final night of indulging indoors.

"Our objective isn't to annoy people but to protect them," French Health Minister Roselyne Bachelot-Narquin said in an interview published this week in the newspaper Le Parisien. "We shouldn't forget that every year 66,000 deaths are caused by smoking and 5,000 by secondhand smoke."


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