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France amends anti-smoking law to save its "heritage"

Citing "cultural heritage" concerns, French lawmakers have approved new exceptions to a draconian anti-smoking law.

Chez Castel
A woman smokes in the new smoking room of Chez Castel, a private club on Dec. 8, 2010 in Paris. (Pierre Verdy/AFP/Getty Images)

Citing "cultural heritage" concerns, French lawmakers have approved new exceptions to a Draconian anti-smoking law.

Fear of breaking the so-called Evin law, which bans the "direct or indirect" promotion of tobacco products, had in recent years led authorities to remove images of cigarettes from publicly displayed pictures of famous French figures. 

A public outcry gradually mounted as the philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre, the iconic comic character Jacques Tatim and Charles de Gualle's culture minister Andre Malraux appeared in posters without their trademark cigarettes. A cigarette was even removed from the cover of former President Jacques Chirac's memoirs.

Lawmakers said they wanted to counteract the extensive way the country's anti-smoking law had been interpreted.

"The falsification of history, the censorship of works of the mind, the denial of reality must remain the heinous marks of totalitarian regimes," read the bill before parliament Wednesday.

Ireland became the first country in Europe to impose an outright ban on smoking in workplaces in 2004. The legislation made it an offense to smoke in workplaces, which had the effect of banning smoking in pubs and restaurants. Since then, most European countries have imposed smoking bans of varying severity.

France is not the first country to waver on its anti-smoking stance — the Netherlands allowed the partial lifting of their ban for pubs less than 750 square feet and staffed solely by the owner.

And the Scottish Licensed Trade Association in late 2010 called on the government to reconsider the Scottish law, which came into force in 2006, on the basis that more than 700 pubs there had closed since the smoking ban was introduced. Scotland was the first part of the U.K. to bring in legislation outlawing smoking in enclosed public places.

But the ban was perhaps most controversial in France, where the image of chic intellectualism and elegance, not to mention social permissiveness, and cigarettes, somehow go hand in hand. As a result, many French resisted the country's decision to ban smoking in restaurants and cafes in 2008, a year after it banned smoking in public places, including offices and schools.

Last May, Ben Barnier, who reports for GlobalPost from Paris, interviewed Christophe Cedat, who mounted a protest against the ban by experimenting on himself.

Cedat, owner of the Cafe 203 in Lyon, set out to smoke two packs of cigarettes a day — just to see what it would to do to his body. Cedat, who is in his 40s, had not smoked in decades. He is documenting his experience on the www.demainjecommence.com ("tomorrowistart.com") with graphics showing the number of cigarettes he smoked since January 2010, and updates on his physical and mental health.

Barnier contacted Cedat Thursday for his reaction to the last reworking of the advertising law. Cedat said:

"I think that at some point, there is no reason to avoid the issue of smoking, instead we need to tackle it. There is nothing like reminding young people in particular that at some point in history people used to smoke freely, just like people used to drive without their seat belt on.

"The members of parliament probably realized that we could no longer hide the historical truth about smoking. Censorship never works, it is something used by dictators, and it takes the reality away.

"I am very fond of the old-fashioned pictures with movie stars who smoke like Alain Delon and Alfred Hitchcock. I actually have a collection of such pictures on the walls of my cafe. Even though today, smoking constantly is outdated."

Cedat, who has since stopped smoking and whose website now features both pro- and anti-smoking messages, will release a book about his extreme smoking experience in February, Barnier reports.

He said he felt better having kicked the habit again, but felt sympathy for smokers as a result. 

"I feel perfectly healthy. I don't cough anymore. I used to cough a lot toward the end. After I stopped smoking, I felt a huge amount of mental energy that is hard to control."

"I feel much more sympathetic to smokers, I feel like I understand them better. I stopped smoking on the first minute of 2011. During the last day, I smoked frenetically. Today, even for a million dollars I would not smoke another cigarette!"

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/benelux/110120/france-smoking-ban-advertising-europe