Friday, July 23, 2004

An excerpt from the March, 2003 issue of Liberty magazine:

"Where I now live, it's just about impossible to smoke in public. Only a few refuges remain: certain bars with seating outdoors, cigar clubs, the San Diego zoo. It's not like the good old days. If you watch old black and white movies, you know that all of America was a great place to smoke. I especially enjoy seeing scenes that take place in theatres full of men in fedoras smoking cigars.

"France is still the land of gauloises and gitanes -- the land of smoke-filled rooms. The French love to smoke. Paris is hated and loved for its smoky cafes. Most American expatriates in France complain about the smoke for a year, then they get used to it and never give it another thought. As I write, thousands of puritanical, non-smoking Americans happily sip their espressos surrounded by smokers. In America, they would be outraged and would insist that they could not tolerate the smoke. In France, they have no choice. They adapt. They become polite and honest about smoking.

"Many French have a formal way of smoking through a long meal: one before, one between courses, one with coffee (always served after dessert, never with dessert), and one or more with cordials.


"Could all of this smoky culture be blown away by legislative hot air?

"In January of 1991, the French government passed a law requiring cafes, restaurants, and bars to create and enforce non-smoking areas and to post prominent signs indicating smoking and non-smoking areas.

"I lived in Paris at the time. For weeks, television news broadcasts dedicated several minutes a day to the topic. Journalists interviewed restauranteurs and men in the street, smokers and non-smokers. In the French bank where I worked, there was a lot of talk about the new law. Would the police enforce it? Would the cafes respect it? Was it a good idea?

"At first, the law had little effect and barely was enforced. Nevertheless, the authorities promised progressive enforcement.

"Meanwhile, I moved back to California. Time passed. Last year I took a short trip to Provence. I was curious to see how the anti-smoking campaign was going.

"Smoking in bars, restaurants, and cafes continued unchanged. Some places had signs for non-smoking areas. The patrons always ignored the signs and second-hand smoke often obscured them. One cafe had an illegally tiny sign, with tiny letters, in a tiny corner of the room. It read, 'Ceci est la zone non-fumeur,' or 'Here's the non-smoking area.' A couple of bars posted a sign -- apparently a mass-produced insult to the anti-smoking law -- that said simply, 'Bar Fumeur,' or 'Smoking Bar.' Finally, I saw the most sensible of all signs, 'Si la fumee vous derange, sortez.' 'If the smoke bothers you, leave.'" --Michael Christian

Now, as the last and only individual in the United States that doesn't smoke, but isn't bothered that others do, I say, "Hear, hear." We, most of us, are pretty upset with France right now, because of the anti-American posture of French politicians and bureaucrats, but this to me tilts France a little way toward the positive side.

Col. Hogan

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