Are the days of smoking on French beaches numbered? The country’s health minister fervently hopes so, but I have my doubts. Following the 2008 ban on the weed in closed public spaces – bars, restaurants and similar – and the recent extension of this ban to e-cigarettes, Marisol Touraine now wishes to see tobacco ejected from open spaces. These include beaches but also parks, university campuses, outside school gates and inside bus shelters.
The country’s 15 million smokers, hit simultaneously with a price hike taking a packet of 20 cigarettes to around €7/£5.95, have rolled their eyes (as, increasingly, they roll their own cigs. It’s cheaper.) Thus France’s twin urges to bossiness and insurgency are clashing again.
“No smoking in closed spaces – I can see that,” said a Midi tobacconist I know. “But you’ve really got to want to be annoyed to get annoyed by someone smoking on a beach.” Naturally, the call to the defence of individual liberties is not far behind.
Not even anti-tobacco campaigners are entirely convinced. Yves Bur of the AntiTobacco Alliance reckons the measure all but insignificant. Meanwhile, mayors – on whom the burden of deciding and implementing any ban will fall – say they can’t afford it. And half the country thinks that Mme Touraine’s new campaign is just a way of obscuring her department’s problems with the much meatier matter of pension reform.
That said, the health minister is not all alone. Following the 2011 lead of La Ciotat (near Marseille), spots like Nice, Cannes, St Malo and Ouistreham have already declared certain of their beaches non-smoking. Local papers have been full of pictures of self-satisfied local councillors unveiling “no smoking” signs on the prom.
As has been pointed out, this works because all the resorts have other beaches unaffected by the prohibition, so everyone’s happy. However, a blanket ban would run into cultural hurdles in a country once defined by the pall of Gauloises fumes which hit you on entry. Significant figures like actors Jean Gabin and Lino Ventura, poet Jacques Prévert, musician Serge Gainsbourg and President Georges Pompidou were rarely seen without “une clope au bec” (“a fag stuck to the lip”).