I left Paris in 2007, before the “smoking ban” went into effect in restaurants. On coming back earlier this month, I was looking forward to finally being able to hang out in cafes. Wrong! Because it’s not actually a ban in smoking at restaurants and bars, it’s a ban in smoking in the *interior* of restaurants and bars. The new development, thus, is not that Parisian cafes are no longer hazardous to the health of non-smokers but that cafe terraces have become *more dangerous* because they’ve become completely occupied by the smokers (who, after all, have nowhere else to go). I’ve been conducting an ongoing survey on both banks of the Seine and for the majority of cafes, ALL THE TABLES ARE OCCUPIED BY SMOKERS. It’s clear that a non-smoker who would dare to insert him or herself in this milieu would be risking lungs and life. So the net effect is that it’s less the cafes which have become off-limits to smokers than the true Parisian cafe experience — centered on the cafe terrace — which non-smokers and anyone who likes to breathe clean air has been excluded from. As has been the case with all French laws supposedly geared to protect non-smokers, there’s a central lie involved, which is that smoke on a terrace is somehow less likely to kill or less irritating for non-smokers than smoke inside, even if you’re surrounded by it.
If anything, Paris has actually become a more dangerous place for non-smokers, who no longer have the choice to avoid exposure to this toxic — and lethal — matter. Before the “non-smoking law,” one could at least choose to not enter a smokey restaurant. Now, just walking down any street with cafe terraces — in other words, just about any street in Paris — requires traversing a corridor of HAZARDOUS smoke.