December 9, 2019

Smokings down and (stubbed) out in Paris

PARIS — Where would French culture be if Serge Gainsbourg or Jean-Paul Belmondo had been forced to stop smoking while out and about in Paris?

And what would singer-songwriter, poet, and heavy smoker Georges Brassens think of the park that takes his name being smoke-free? The park in the 15th arrondissement opened in 1984, three years after Brassens died, and has been smoke-free since July 2018, when it was chosen as one of six parks to take part in a no-smoking trial.

This summer, the number of parks in Paris in which smoking is outlawed has risen to 52 — and from September, youll be fined €38 if youre caught lighting up in one of them.

On a quiet Wednesday in late July, in the heart of the chic 3rd arrondissement, two women waited at the entrance to Square du Temple. Both were on their lunch break and smoking cigarettes. Finally, one of them said: “Oh come on, lets go inside!”

Since June 8, Square du Temple, a small park with a pond, bandstand and playground, has been a smoke-free area. Each entrance has a sign (“You are entering a non-smoking garden”) and outside are large ashtrays installed by the city authorities. Not everyone is complying.

“Well see how it goes this summer. After that, we will analyze how the extension was welcomed by the public” — Pénélope Komitès, a deputy mayor of Paris

“I generally try to pay attention,” said Cassandra (she didnt want to give her last name), one of the two lunchtime smokers who hesitated by the entrance. But “its quiet, I dont see why I wouldnt go in. Who am I bothering? Honestly, I hear more people complain about this ban than saying theyre happy with it.”

Across the river in the George-Brassens park, Jonathan and Sylvie (not their real names) are park rangers making sure the ban is complied with.

“The city puts us in a somewhat difficult position,” said Jonathan. “It can sometimes take a violent turn, because were not just raising awareness, were telling people its forbidden. Its not allowed to smoke in an open-air area, people dont really get that.”

Park rangers and gardeners employed by the city have been given bundles of flyers to distribute ahead of the introduction of the €38 fine. But they wont be handing out the fines from September. That job will fall to a special law-enforcement brigade, similar to municipal police, which already monitors anti-social behavior on the streets of Paris — a cigarette butt thrown on the ground, for example, gets you a €68 fine.

At the entrance of the Square du Temple, in the 3rd arrondissement of Paris, public ashtrays and messages of awareness are displayed at each entrance of the park | Manon Jacob

“The order [to fine people] has been signed since August 1,” said Pénélope Komitès, a deputy mayor of Paris with responsibility for green spaces. “We realized there was a need for a bit more public education, so we will start fining in September instead.”

“There are two main reasons” for the ban, Komitès told POLITICO. “There is a public health concern, and there is a cleanliness and environmental concern.”

The ban covers a small amount (around 10 percent) of the green spaces in Paris, and mostly covers areas popular with families and that attract few tourists.

“Well see how it goes this summer,” Komitès said. “After that, we will analyze how the extension was welcomed by the public, and well see if its doable to increase the percentage again or not.”

The ban on smoking doesnt just cover parks and gardens in Paris: Lighting up has been forbidden in childrens play areas since 2015; the likes of Marseille and Nice have no-smoking beaches; and Strasbourg turned all of its green spaces smoke-free in summer 2018.

“There is a strong, growing demand from the public to have a smoke-free environment thats pretty much linked to the improvement of living standards,” said Emmanuelle Béguinot, director of CNCT, the French National Committee Against Smoking.

“I dont think attaching a stigma to a minority is ever something to celebrate” — Guillaume Périgois, pro-smoking group lobbyist

Not everyone agrees. Guillaume Périgois, director of the pro-smoking group Forest EU — which receives funding from the tobacco industry — said the Paris ban is “clearly repressive” and “ethically questionable.”

“I dont think attaching a stigma to a minority is ever something to celebrate,” he said.

“Whenever there is a restriction on behavior, we should also consider the whole policy. Are we making it easier for people to quit smoking? Are we making it easier for people not to take up smoking in the first place?” said Holly Jarman, a researcher at the University of Michigan School of Public Health.

Historical links

According to the latest data from Eurobarometer on attitudes toward tobacco and electronic cigarettes, France has the second highest percentage of regular smokers in the EU (behind Greece, and tied with Bulgaria) at 36 percent. The EU average is 26 percent.

“One of the problems with France is that the tobacco industry was very much entangled with the state,” said Jarman. That ended in 1995 when SEITA (Service dexploitation industrielle des tabacs et allumettes), the state-owned tobacco monopoly, became private.

With the minister of finance supporting tobacco sales and the minister of health opposing them, the state had become “schizophrenic,” according to Eric Godeau, a historian of the French tobacco industry.

At the time, SEITAs chief executive, Jean-Dominique Comolli, said “clearly the state is ashamed to be the stakeholder of a tobacco company.”

France is now much tougher on tobacco controls.

An undated photo of French actors Jean-Paul Belmondo, Alain Delon and Jean Gabin smoking in Paris | AFP via Getty Images

It was the second country in the world, after Australia, to implement plain packaging in May 2016, after the introduction of the EUs Tobacco Products Directive, which has been described as the most lobbied legal file in EU history.

France also wants to raise the price of a pack of cigarettes to €10 by 2020.

In 2018, according to government agency Santé publique France, 32 percent of French adults consumed tobacco — 25.4 percent on a daily basis and 6.6 percent occasionally. That was down by 1.6 million smokers compared with 2016 figures from the agency, although e-cigarette consumption did increase for the first time, according to the agencys report.

“Its historically significant,” said Nicolas Prisse, director of the Interministerial Mission for Combating Drugs and Addictive Behaviors, which reports to Frances prime minister, acknowledging that France had been for years at “the bottom of the class” on tobacco control.

“The coffee and cig here, its sacred” — Mehdi, 25, graduate from Sorbonne University

“There has been a real upturn [in people quitting] for two years,” said Viêt Nguyen Thanh, whos in charge of the addiction department at Santé publique France. However, she said there are huge disparities across the country.

The regions where French people smoke the most include Hauts-de-France (which borders Belgium), Occitanie (bordering Spain), and Grand Est (surrounded by Germany, Luxembourg, Belgium and SwRead More – Source

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