French Smokers Hold On To Their Cigarettes

As the owner of a local pub in Perpignan, Bernard Selve is not in complete agreement with the new French law passed in 2007, banning the act of smoking in indoor public areas. “It’s not as much fun,” he says. Fewer customers go to his bar because they can’t smoke there anymore.

The French government enforces the new smoking ban in hope of cutting back on the high rate of smoking in France. But with this law, an aspect of French culture is lost, or at least modified. Smoking has been rooted deep into the lifestyle of France for many years. Cafés, bars, clubs, and restaurants have all been places to socially gather and light up for extra pleasure. In recent years the atmosphere of smokers casually enjoying times with friends and family in public indoor areas has disappeared.

Bernard, like many other French citizens, is not in “total disagreement” with the law, but would like some things changed about it. He would like the law to be “more specific” so that it only applies to restaurants and not bars like the one he owns. Even with this being said, however, he still understands why the law was put into effect; so that the fumes of tobacco don’t bother non-smokers.

Unlike Bernard, some bar owners have created “outdoor bars” where cigarette lovers can enjoy a drink, chat with friends in a dancing atmosphere and light up in the middle of it all. This allows people to have a fun night out, as if the law was never created.

But the indoor ban is not the only obstacle to smoking. Along with outlawing lit cigarettes in public indoor areas, the government drastically raised the price of cigarettes with an 80% tax increase. The cost is a very sore subject among cigarette users who feel they are paying more for the product, but have less freedom in using it. Some smokers have tried to find ways around this. “I just go to Spain to buy cigarettes. They are cheaper,” says Madam Derudder, a Perpignan resident.

So have these new rules really helped smokers change their habits and cut back? “I have tried the patch and a nicotine candy but they didn’t work,” states Thiry Severine, a 40-year-old woman who has smoked since she was 14 years old. Other than trying to quit smoking, her habits have not changed because of the law.

The only difference for some smokers in France is the location of where they light up. Banning smoking inside and raising prices aren’t enough for the French smoking population to hand over their cigarettes. According to Bulletin épidémiologique hebdomadaire, a French government website, a survey conducted in 2010 with over 27,000 interviewees shows a recent increase in the number of smokers between the age of 15-75 in France. However, the same survey also revealed that the number of cigarettes smoked each day has gone down. The researchers attributed these trends to the new laws. Since areas of smoking aren’t as available as they used to be, people don’t automatically take a cigarette out of their pocket when they feel the need. Smokers, it seems, are becoming more conscious of where they are smoking, and of the surrounding public.

Another revelation from the survey is that the number of women smoking, has increased more than the number of men smoking. The researchers theorized that women have a harder time quitting once they reach their elders, while men generally tend to stop their habits. Also, the Bulletin épidémiologique hebdomadaire suggests that the current generation of women is new to smoking, and therefore more curious and vulnerable to the product.

So even with new laws and higher taxes, the French smoking population still stands its ground, cigarettes in hand.


About the Program

Fifteen college students came from North America to Perpignan, France, in June 2011 to produce these videos and stories. To find out more, read a welcome letter from program director Rachele Kanigel, meet the program faculty and explore the 2010 website.