| French actress Catherine Deneuve lights a cigarette during a conference
Paris, Oct. 6: One of the most memorable scenes in French films is Jean-Paul Belmondo lifting his head, dragging on a cigarette and rubbing his thumb back and forth across his lips in Breathless. (He smokes about two dozen times in the movie.)
There is something about smoking that seems very French.
But as in other European countries, smoking in public has increasingly fallen out of favour here. This week, after a five-month governmental inquiry, a parliamentary committee approved a proposal to ban smoking in public areas.
Under the measure, cafes, hotels, restaurants, discos and casinos could designate spaces for smoking only if they could be “hermetically sealed areas, furnished with air-extraction systems and subject to extremely rigorous health norms”.
Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin said he would decide quickly how to proceed on the matter. “The French people would not understand if we do not make a decision” in the face of the research, he told members of Parliament on Monday.
But not everyone here agrees. To die-hard smokers and many tobacconists and bar and restaurant owners, the campaign reflects the loss of a core French value — the rights of the individual.
“I see this as a personal attack,” said André Santini, a centre-right member of Parliament from a Paris suburb and compulsive cigar smoker, who posed for photographers this week in the tobacco kiosk in the National Assembly building.
“What disturbs me is the ayatollahs you meet everywhere. They tell you how you have to make love, how you have to eat.”
At the end of the year, the kiosk will no longer sell cigarettes, cigars and cigarillos, only candy and newspapers. Just as bad, he said, smoking will eventually be banned in the high-ceilinged corridors of the National Assembly itself.
“I’ll end my life where I started it — in the men’s room,” said Jean-Pierre Balligand, a lawmaker from eastern France. “I started smoking like every other schoolboy, in the toilets of my junior high school. And that’s where I’ll end up, in the toilets of the National Assembly, while the school principal, Mr Debré, screams at us for smoking.”
The “school principal” is Jean-Louis Debré, the president of the National Assembly, who ordered the ban on the sale of tobacco products inside Parliament to “set the example”.