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Colin Randall wrote here on France, things Anglo-French and more......but has moved

February 01, 2007

The fag end of France's smoking culture

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Does the big stick work when trying to stamp out smoking?


Well, it didn't at school, where being caught guaranteed a caning. And I am not sure £48 fines will be any more effective in France now that the ban on smoking in many public places has taken effect.

The French are notoriously unruly in their approach to rules, regulations and conventions of which they do not approve.

The health minister may sound confident that the new law will be largely observed, but with legions of young people among 10 million or more French smokers, the early days and weeks may be a severe test.

If I am right to think of the French as almost professionally rebellious - they do love to claim to have been there at the birth of revolution - there will be lots of instances of defiance of the law.

Smoking is still seen as sexy and cool by lots of the French, and especially young people. And as any ex-smokers out there will readily agree, giving up once the habit has taken hold is genuinely hard.

Boys' choir practice at St John's Church in Shildon, Co Durham. That's where I first took up the weed.

I have guilty memories of covering my father's packet of Players untipped with a newspaper or comic, and easing a cigarette out without him seeing.

Threats of dire punishment at school did nothing to deter. Later, when I was smoking far, far too many cigarettes a day for my meagre pay to support, early morning coughing fits also failed to put me off.

By the time I eventually stopped, I was was nearly 30 and smoking at least one cigarette a day for each year of my life. I'd go to Belfast to cover the Troubles, rising early and staying up late in bars where lighting up seemed almost obligatory, and consumption would rocket.

After a fortnight of that, I'd return to England run down, and perhaps suffering from a chest infection that would make smoking positively unpleasant and painful. Still I would persevere.

It was on such a return that I finally found the will to stop smoking.

I was so poorly that I really could not smoke at all without severe discomfort. Within 10 days, I had recovered but knew I would never have a better chance to give up.

Once I felt really better, I rewarded myself with a packet of 10 - but I sensibly threw them away almost immediately and haven't smoked since.

Everyone who stops finds it gets easier as times goes by. The first weeks are obviously the worst but if you smoke heavily now and then succeed in giving up, you will probably - like me - always think of yourself as a smoker who doesn't smoke rather than a non-smoker.

In a recurring dream, I have taken it up again, reached 20 or so a day in no time and refuse to call a halt because I have persuaded myself I can stop any time I want.

If any smokers find that discouraging, they shouldn't. In real life, I am never tempted. But how to stop and stay stopped is not where I began these reflections on the French ban.

And when I think back, there is a ray of light for those wondering how on earth than can ever comply with the new restrictions.

Even at the height of my smoking career, I was able mentally to switch off as a user if I found myself in a court or some other environment where it was simply banned - however quickly I'd reach for the fags on getting outside again.

Smoking areas - upstairs on a bus, for example, or one carriage on the Tube - were usually so vile that they offered no proper relief and I routinely avoided them.

In time, I suspect, and perhaps before the ban extends next year to bars and restaurants, French smokers who cannot overcome the addiction may acquire another habit: knowing when and where it is just not allowed.

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At February 01, 2007 6:01 PM, Anonymous Jules said...

I, too, gave up fags around the age of 30 and was also smoking as many as that each day. Like you, I still occasionally have smoking dreams. In mine, I'm smoking while explaining to someone that, unlike last time, I can easily stop and will do - but next week. I awake feeling utterly disappointed in myself for restarting the evil habit seconds before realising it's a dream. Mr Nicotine stalks us "smokers who don't smoke" relentlessly, but I haven't succumbed yet......

At February 01, 2007 7:56 PM, Blogger Bill Taylor said...

You remember that evil old couple in the little shop across from school who used to break up packets of Woodbines and sell them individually, which was all most 11-year-olds could afford? Though you may have been doing better than most of us. I seem to recall your running a pocket-money bookmaking operation during breaks.
I stopped smoking in my teens when I realized I couldn't afford that and drinking. Beer seemed more rewarding. Oddly, though, I was in a remote part of western China a few years ago where everyone smoked the roughest tobacco imaginable. Somebody offered me a cigarette which, not wanting to risk giving offence, I accepted. I wound up smoking for the whole 10 days I was there but then, once I left, I never missed it.

At February 01, 2007 11:28 PM, Blogger richard of orléans said...

I arrived early for an appointment at a customer this morning. Time for acoffee in a cafe I rarely frequent. A noxious smoker wafts smoke in my direction. Ah ah what do I spy on the front page of the local rag,' La République du Centre' Smoking interdit. Excellent.
I learn over to the fine fellow polluting my lungs, excusez moi Monsieur, c'est interdit. Oh no it's not, we have one more year of pleasure. Whereupon the smoking bar tender supports his smelly customer and indicates the no smoki,g zone right next to the toilettes.


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