Leading article: Stubbed out

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Like Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca, many smokers probably imagined that they'd always have Paris. No longer. France is to ban smoking in public spaces in offices, schools and shopping malls from next month. Restaurants, bars and cafes follow next January.

Has ever a nation looked less likely to embrace the anti- smoking legislative revolution that is drifting over the developed world? Smoking goes to the heart of the modern French identity. Between the wars, smoking full-strength, unfiltered Gauloises was considered patriotic. Thereafter, tobacco became associated with the resistance and the liberation. And then there is existentialism. Try imagining Jean-Paul Sartre or Albert Camus cigarette-less. Sartre was reputed to enjoy two packets and several pipes a day.

So should we expect the French to rush to their barricades once again to fight this injustice? Some say it will not come to that. In 1991 France adopted the strictest anti-smoking laws in Europe. They were simply ignored. Many expect the same to happen now.

But the smoke signals are changing. The French public have been surprisingly supportiveof the ban. Sartre even conceded once that smoking is "the symbolic equivalent of destructively appropriating the entire world". Then came the tipping point: Altadis, the producer of Gauloise and Gitanes, announced that it was moving its production to Spain, citing a lack of demand at home.

"Smoke, my friend," said the French composer, Erik Satie, "otherwise someone else will smoke in your place." Perhaps. But even the most ingrained traditions sometimes go up in smoke.