For the Canadian non-smoker, Paris’ smoking culture is a hard adjustment.
Bleary — yet starry — eyed, I arrived in Paris, ready to conquer the city. My first steps out of the airport met with a puff of cigarette smoke, blown without apology into my face.
I definitely wasn’t in Canada anymore.
Smoking culture in Ontario is very different than that of Paris. In Ontario, the Ministry of Health has an ongoing campaign called Smoke Free Ontario, as well as the Smoke Free Ontario Act. The laws against smoking are incredibly strict: smoking is banned in public, in a workplace, anywhere where the public is ordinarily invited to or permitted access to, and on patios, even on private property; a smoker can get fined for smoking in a car with a minor who is under 16; and no universities are permitted to sell cigarettes on their campuses. Cigarette packages feature graphic images of the negative health effects of smoking in an attempt to deter people from smoking. Only 17.4 percent of Ontario residents smoke, compared to a doubling 32 percent of French smokers.
Smoking laws in France are on the rise, though. Just last week, a law went into effect that fines smokers 68€ for tossing cigarette butts on the ground. In 2014, plans were announced to heighten laws to prevent a new generation of smokers from forming, from adding the same graphic images to the side of cigarette packages to banning smoking in the presence of a child 12 years old or younger. These stricter laws, however, will not go into effect until 2016.
Despite the French anti-smoking attempts, it seems that authorities are very lax about actually enforcing these laws. Almost every terrace you see in Paris is filled with smokers; therefore, if you are a non-smoker and the smoke bothers you, you must enjoy the café inside. Smokers also enjoy lighting up in metro stations while waiting for the metro to arrive, and on occasion, smokers will even light up inside of a bar or nightclub while dancing the night away (try not to burn off my hair, please). Furthermore, the French even roll their own cigarettes instead of buying a pack of them which I have witnessed happening on the metro on various occasions.
It is obvious that the French are much more accepting of smoking than Canadians. Why is this? French women have often been known to stand by a motto of, “Better Dead than Fat.” While this seems alarming, it voices that smoking culture in France runs deep. It is more than looking cool or fitting in – it inherently has to do with body image. If you take a serious look around Paris you will see that almost no one is overweight. Some people do take part in running and promoting their own personal healthy lifestyle, but others turn to smoking. I can understand the pressure as an individual growing up and permanently living in France to not only stay slim, but to quickly shed the extra pounds in the event of gaining weight. Smoking in France also seems to be a sociable activity, seemingly almost as common as meeting up with a friend or colleague for a glass of wine.
In other parts of the world, like Canada, there is no sex appeal when it comes to smoking. However in France it may still be seen as sexy to have a cigarette. Many couples smoke together, women smoke in public without judgement, and men seem to appear more macho for some reason when they smoke in France. It must be something in the air in Paris, because in Canada, it is more of a turn-off than a turn-on.
Despite all of the anti-smoking laws and higher taxes that France has imposed to lessen the amount of smokers, it seems that smokers are here to stay. Smokers in Paris seem to have a disregard for these laws, and enforcers seem to have a disregard for actually enforcing the law. Smoking culture deeply rooted in Paris, and it’s going to take a lot more than creating new laws and taxes to send it on its way.