D'fense de fumer? Ici'

September 28, 2006

Nearly a half century after the U.S. surgeon general first sounded the alarm about the health risks of tobacco comes word that France may ban smoking everywhere but private homes.

Mon Dieu! How can this be? Smoking in France is practically the national pastime. A thick brown haze floats over sidewalk cafes, perfumes Parisian cabarets and even mingles with sweet smells of the neighborhood patisserie. A cigarette dangling from the lips of a swarthy rogue or saucy coquette has for decades signaled raw sex appeal.

Apparently, if the Irish can ban smoking in pubs - which they did in 2004 - all things are possible. In fact, the wonder is that the anti-tobacco movement has taken so long.

Even in progressive Maryland, the campaign has progressed in fits and starts. A 1995 state ban on smoking in the workplace has a huge loophole for bars and restaurants that is being slowly closed, county by county.

Resistance, according to polls, comes not so much from the smoking public as from the tobacco industry, which has been amazingly successful at defending a product with a deadly array of downsides and nothing much to offer but a nicotine buzz.

In France, there is said to be some skepticism about whether citizens in the bastion of liberty, equality and fraternity would comply with a smoking ban. Plus ?a change, plus c'est la meme chose, and all of that.

But the French may find, as the Irish did, that once the air clears, giving up smokes isn't so bad. As long as there's Guinness - or red wine - in prudent measure, life is still very good without tobacco. And likely to last longer.

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