French Existence Goes Up in Smoke

Sacré bleu! The French have banned smoking in restaurants, bars and nightclubs, forever changing the way the French eat, drink and dance. Can the country survive?

Now, we’re not silly enough to suggest that a smoking ban would affect bookings to France. In fact, the prohibition has been in place at such places as offices, schools, airports and train stations since 2006, but restaurants, bars and other “places of conviviality,” were given a year of reprieve to prepare. And so on January 2, the lighters in bars and discothèques throughout France went dark. So we wonder: Given how some of the France’s most famous icons are pictured holding cigarettes (Coco Chanel and Brigitte Bardot come to mind), does the restriction detract from France’s charm?

“I think the charm of a French accent far outweighs the non-charm attached to the image of a dangling cigarette,” says Kate Murphy, president of Uniglobe Wings Travel in Blue Bell, PA, and an obvious non-smoker.

Others agree, perhaps accustomed to the similarly enacted ban in New York. “France has lost the only objection to what has otherwise been one of the most culturally rich experiences in the world,” says John Jessey, senior director of e-marketing and special projects for Ensemble Travel Group in, well, New York. Echoes Jessey’s colleague, Suzanne Hall, senior director of marketing and development of land products for Ensemble, “Mais non! A champagne flute pressedto the lips is far sexier!”

“As I love to now travel to New York to enjoy a wonderful non-smoke-filled dinner or enjoy a glass of wine without red eyes, I will have the same desire to travel to France for the same reasons,” adds Trudy Lagerman, a travel consultant with Liberty Travel in nearby Selinsgrove, PA. “In my eyes, France just gained more charm!”

And, as always, there are the skeptics. “Last time the French banned smoking they compromised and created smoking and non-smoking areas in restaurants and there were more smokers in the non-smoking sections than the smoking ones,” says Anastasia Mann, chairman and CEO of the Corniche Group in West Hollywood, CA.  “The French people are not easily intimidated by rules.”

John Clifford of International Travel Management in San Diego, CA, also doesn’t believe much will change. “Most of the French will ignore the new laws, and create controversy, angst and rebellion as they’ve done throughout history,” he says. “It’s in their blood as much as smoking is.”

Though perhaps this time will be different, as smokers who don’t comply will be faced with fines of $100 to $661, The New York Times reports. (Meanwhile, proprietors who allow patrons to smoke can be charged up to $1,100.)

For the last word, we go straight to the French. “It’s better for our image,” Jean-Philippe Pérol, director for the Americas at Maison de la France, says in all seriousness before adding, “I recently read in a magazine about places with the freedom to smoke where you want and to cross the street where you want, and on it was France.”

Ah, the good ol’ days.