The classic image of the French enjoying a cigarette with their morning coffee is soon to become a thing of the past.
French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin must be commended on his move to ban smoking in all enclosed public areas. The new law, which takes effect in 2007, will prohibit smoking in schools, cafes, bars, hotels and restaurants.
While France has traditionally been quite smoking-friendly, with approximately one-third of residents choosing to light up on a regular basis, nearly every major news report on the legislation indicates that the 70 percent of non-smoking French residents favor the ban.
And with good reason too.
After all, dangers of smoking are well-known. The collection of toxins contained within each cigarette has been directly linked to a long list of diseases, most notably lung cancer, emphysema and cardiovascular disease. According to the World Health Organization, smoking is the "largest preventable cause of disease and premature death."
The poisons in cigarette smoke is so toxic that second-hand smoking, also known as passive smoking, can just as dangerous as lighting up. In France alone, over 5,000 deaths annually are linked to second-hand smoke.
Banning indoor smoking would ensure that staff members within the service industry would no longer be exposed to unwanted second-hand smoke. The ban should work to help decrease the number of underage smokers. At the very least, it would limit exposure of cigarettes to children, who are easily influenced by the imagery of the "maturity" of smoking.
And perhaps most importantly, the prohibition would change public attitude and pressures towards smoking. It’s already an outdated institution; smoking fell out of fashion in Hollywood, and it should no longer be glamorized and romanticized as a stylish pastime.
Understandably, this move was met with outcry from tobacco corporations and owners of smoking-friendly establishments, who say that the legislation would dramatically decrease business. Indoor smoking would only be allowed if an establishment could install a sealed smoking room, which most places can’t afford. Those who are caught smoking in non-smoking area are will be hit with stiff fines.
France only follows a number of European nations, including England, Ireland, Italy, Scotland and Norway, who in recent years have also taken similar measures to ban public smoking.
It’s important to understand that the ban is for the greater good of the population, and the ban should absolutely not be spun into a personal-rights issue.
This is not about hating smokers.
But still, some are making it out to be a personal attack.
Jean-Pierre Huck, the owner of an alcohol/tobacco stand, is quoted in an MSNBC article as saying, "In two years they’ll ban us from eating bread."
Meanwhile, an AFP article quotes French bar owner Laurent Lefevre questioning, "What’s going to be banned next? Sex?"
These people are obviously missing the point, as bread and sex are clearly not harmful to bystanders. It’s selfish to assume that the people around you don’t mind breathing in your toxic fumes.
It’s stupid to accept smoking as a cultural emblem.
And it’s deadly to assume that second-hand smoke isn’t harmful.
As reported by the San Francisco Chronicle, scientists who followed 48 restaurant workers and bartenders following the 1998 ban of indoor smoking in California found that nicotine levels within their systems fell by 85 percent within three months. Lung function tests showed an average improvement of five to seven percent.
Taking up smoking is a personal choice. But it’s also public problem.
The road is already paved. Perhaps one day we’ll finally have a world where no one will be unwillingly subjected to breathing another person’s poison.