Thursday, January 03, 2008

Will health erode culture in France?

Under a sweeping decree that took effect Wednesday, smoking has been banned in every commercial corner of “entertainment and conviviality” - from the toniest Parisian nightclub to the humblest village cafe.

No matter that cigarette is a French word. Or that the great icons of French creativity - Colette to Cocteau, Camus to Coco Chanel - all smoked. Or that Paris boasts a Museum of Smoking. Or, in fact, that Paris has named a street after Jean Nicot, the 16th-century French diplomat who took tobacco leaves imported from America to Catherine de Medici to treat her migraines. (Nicotine was named after him.)

The decree coincides with a broad Europe-wide nonsmoking movement that began four years ago when Ireland banned smoking in public places. But here, there are fierce pockets of resistance. Opponents say the ban signals the erosion of French liberté. They say it is undemocratic because it was not passed through Parliament but imposed by government decree.

For Mr. René Le Pape, the ban signals the demise of a part of French culture. “It means the destruction of village life,” he said. “What will happen to the ritual of arriving at the cafe in the morning to read the morning paper over a coffee and a cigarette?”

At Le Musée du Fumeur (The Museum of Smoking), there is concern that the French may not be able to think as well without their cigarettes. “All our great writers seem to have been smokers,” said Michka Seeliger-Chatelein, one of the curators.

Read on... [New York Times]

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