Thursday, February 01, 2007

Smoking ban

I didn't realise till I read about it here on BBC that a smoking ban is being enforced in Paris. For the last two months, I've spent a huge amount of time in different cafes out here. Can't say that I've explored a lot of the arts, the nightlife or the sights, but the one thing I've done a lot of in Paris, is sit in cafes.

When I was in Boston, a significant chunk of my thesis was done sitting in various cafes (or coffeeshops). I work better with noise in the background, so cafes suit me fine if I want to sit for a few hours and do something specific. They're also a nice break from working from either home or an office. There were quite a few people like me (mainly students) who did the same thing, so it was pretty common to see people sitting in a coffeeshop, reading or working on their computers.

What those cafes lacked were people sitting around, doing nothing or people meeting for a coffee, a drink or a smoke. Cafes are such an inherent part of Paris, that they're everywhere one goes. I normally leave the University around 5, and depending on how I feel, I pick some neighbourhood and head out to a cafe with some stuff to read. It's interesting to notice the different characters in the cafes and the customers who frequent these places, especially as most of them are there straight after work. I found out recently that there's a law in Paris which says that if you order anything, then they can't force you to order anything else or leave for the next 2 hours. That kind of law is perfect for me and a huge number of Parisians, for whom a cafe is place where they feel free to do whatever they feel like.

I grew up in a family of smokers and through college and grad school, had a bunch of friends who smoked. Though I don't smoke, hanging around smokers is completely normal for me. In the US, smokers are complete outcasts, and I didn't mind accompanying smoker friends or housemates to their smoking spots to continue a conversation or just give them company and waste some time.

In Paris, I love the fact that people smoke inside cafes. Since cafes sell alcohol and tobacco, it's normal to see people show up after work (if they work!) and buy some wine/beer and cigarettes and just talk to the bartender. I guess most people have their neighbourhood cafes to hang out in and feel comfortable walking in and just talking to the bartender. There's no loud music or big screen TVs, just a lot of chatter which makes these cafes so homey.

The ban is initially for workplaces, and apparently will hit a lot of other places soon, except places which sell tobacco. I guess I'm in a minority among non-smokers, but as long as they keep a reasonable number of cafes as places for smokers, I'll keep going there. That's where one is more likely to see people sitting around nothing, which makes me very comfortable.

I should add that I leave at the end of the month, so I don't think I'll notice the effects of the ban in cafes.


Rahul said...

There may not be much effect of the ban in cafes. According to the BBC, 70% of the French, including 50% of smokers, support the ban.

I was in New York when they banned smoking in public places (including cafes/bars/restaurants). The owners of these establishments predicted doom, but to their surprise, their business increased (and their laundry bills went down). Now there's no going back.

I personally would enjoy the jazz bars in Paris more if I didn't have to inhale so much second-hand smoke.

Well, thankfully they don't smoke in cinemas. Have you checked out the movie scene there (especially in the quartier latin), and do you plan to post on that?

bandafbab said...

A lot of the maths professors smoke and I think keeping a few places open to smokers in the maths dept helps to keep alive informal math conversations. A ban in offices and public places like cinemas is good, but keeping a few sections open for smokers isn't bad, especially in a certain number of cafes. If people want to stay away because of the smoke, the business effects can dictate whether or not to allow smoking.

The problem with the movie scene for me is that my French is still very basic. I find it very hard to understand unless it's spoken slowly and I know the context. I can't imagine watching something like "Vivre sa vie" without subtitles - and from what I know everything is (or is dubbed) in French. Or, do you know of places where I can go?

I've tried watching cartoons on TV :-)

Tabula Rasa said...

afty you're a scream, man :-D

Rahul said...

Oh there are lots of non-French movies, in the original language, that's the point. (Of course, if the original language is not English, you still have to read French subtitles... after a year there I was comfortable doing that). Pick up the weeks' Pariscope, "vo" means version original (original language), even if the title has been translated into French.

About the smoking professors, luckily nobody in my immediate group smoked...

Sash said...

Afty, it is indeed rare to see a non-smoker wanting to hang out in caf├ęs which allow smoking. I was in NY when the smoking ban started and initially all of us cribbed. But things were just fine -- smokers adjusted, braved freezing weather to go smoke outside and in the process made their own little cliques.

Since the beginning of the year, a smoking ban has been enforced in DC too. I am quite happy with the ban even though I am from the other side. There is nothing worse than waking up with a massive hangover the next day and then smelling your clothes… or your hair…

bandafbab said...

Banning smoking in places where one goes for a fairly specific purpose (eating, listening to music, watching a film, drinking, working) is good. I'm all for it as a non-smoker.

But I don't support banning it in places where people go for no specific purpose.

Anonymous said...

I cannot believe how every one seems to celebrate the soft(hard?) paternalism of the state. Cafes are not the commons. They are public spaces to the extent that everyone is welcome so long as they consume something at least once in a few visits, so long as they are appropriately dressed(shoes, shirts and such... there is no way on earth a beggar will be allowed to enter a barista even if he has the money to spend.. actually even if the guy has a shirt and shoes, because he will drive away business, so all are not welcome) and so long as the cafes are open for business.

My point is that while the cafe has the appearance of a public place(space) it isn't one. Its a private enterprise. The premises are privately owned. The government has no business of legislating on whether people should or should not be smoking in privately owned spaces. Business owners should be free to choose what kind of establishments they want to run and consumers can choose to patronize such places or not.

If the government bans smoking on government owned land or in the commons then I have no trouble with it, only because my smoking imposes a negative externality on the people inhaling the second hand smoke( just like my driving a car powered by fossil fuels also adds to everyone else's troubles) and not because smoking is bad for me.

The government has no business of deciding my lifestyle. Enough of this paternalism.


Rahul said...

Anshuman -- by your logic, there should be no permits for cafes. You buy streetfront property, open up a cafe there, that's your private affair -- why do you need a permit?

Among the ways eating establishments are "policed" in most developed countries (including the USA, the most libertarian of countries) is via health inspectors checking the sanitary conditions. If they're not up to the mark, the permit may be withdrawn. Now, if they can insist on clean water in the kitchen, surely they can insist on clean air in the room...

Anonymous said...

Hey Rahul,

Good point.

You don't shouldn't need a permit to start a cafe.

However, non-mandatory certification from a governmental or private institution of the quality of service provided would be necessary to prevent the market from breaking down. As market participants(consumers and producers) it is in our best interest to have a variety of such institutions(private and or public) which can reduce the informational asymmetry between sellers and buyers. I just don't think it is up to the government to decide the quality of air I want as a consumer. You can tell me what the quality is and let me decide for myself.

None of the street vendors in India have permits. They do not serve you particularly hygienic food. If you want mineral water you should be able to buy it from pepsi. If you don't care then you should be able to have the street side gol-gappa which has the vednor's bodily fluids as part of its ingredients.

I am all for classification and certification but not banning.


Anonymous said...

In fact, the only lot I feel for are the employees of cafes and bars who probably face a kind of a hobson's choice(as low wage workers mostly do) about choosing to work someplace else.


Anonymous said...

hobson's choice? did somebody put a gun to their heads and told them that they have to necessarily have to work as a bartender/ waiter. Plenty of people have plenty of dangerous jobs - say a window washer and you can give them the instruments to be safe, but some of them are going to die from falling. It is a given.
But I agree with you on the government not having any right to make an establishment smoking/ non-smoking. It should be upto the owner to do that - in fact, there are some bars in Chicago that sell themselves as non smoking bars and plenty of people go there. Meanwhile NY liberals continue to annoy the fuck out of me - they have banned trans fat. Now the only good thing left in my life is copious amounts of alcohol until somebody with concern for my health will be able to effect a "drink in moderation only" rule too.

Anonymous said...

and my previous post is full of grammatical errors. I will simply blame it on living in America.

Rahul said...

Actually, NY (I think all of USA) does have an issue with alcohol too -- it can't be consumed outdoors. While cigarettes can't be consumed indoors. So those who smoke and drink are forced to stand sideways in a doorway, glass in one hand, cigarette in the other...