GH Cheng

I first learned about the complex relationship between the French and their cigarettes as an English assistant in a high school in the French countryside. The staff was split on the question of whether or not smoking should be banned in the teachers’ lounge, where profs had been enjoying cigarettes for as long as the school had existed.

As a young American living in France for the first time, I was adjusting to several cultural changes. Seeing teachers pass bottles of red wine between them during lunch break in the cafeteria (something students did themselves until alcohol in school cafeterias was banned about 60 years ago) was one example of such differences. The smoking in the teachers’ lounge debate was the next one to add to the list.

HiP Paris Blog examines the growing anti-smoking movement in FranceMaël Racapé

I understood the teachers’ addiction, but I couldn’t think of a legitimate defense for it. To me, smoking was a guilty pleasure, a problem that would inevitably be solved by finding the willpower to quit, but to the French smoking is a human right and taking that right away was an abuse of their personal freedoms.

The debate went on, as debates do in France, and by the time the school year was up the issue remained unresolved. Teachers continued to smoke while the non-smokers among them continued to inhale their second hand smoke.

HiP Paris Blog examines the growing anti-smoking movement in FranceMarkus Wahlroos

I eventually became accustomed to life in France, embracing the cultural contrasts I encountered. It came as no surprise to me when, in 2008, the passing of a ban on smoking in public places created the expected amount of controversy. While an estimated 70% of French people supported the ban debate still raged about this drastic change to the French way of life.

By then I was working in a Pub in Paris, where I justified my increasing intake of nicotine as the only way to get a break during a ten hour shift. Despite my smoker status, I was excited about the legislation, happy that I would no longer be obliged to inhale the cigarette smoke of chain smokers who frequented the bar.

HiP Paris Blog examines the growing anti-smoking movement in FranceVonderauvisuals

Citizens weighed in on the legislation, with reports taking over the nightly news presenting the pros and cons of the ban in France. A memorable counterpoint to the pro smoking ban argument came from an upset bar owner in the South of France, “What will people do with their hands if they can’t have a cigarette?” he asked the reporter from the local news outlet continuing, “we’re going to have to give people snacks to eat?”

Before the ban, it was hard to believe that France- the land of Serge Gainsbourg and his famous Gauloises cigarettes- would ever go smoke free, but now it feels normal. Even early objectors seem to have come around, perhaps having found something to do with their hands besides smoking (or, more likely, replacing a real cigarette with the electric variety- which seems to be sold on almost every street corner of any given French city).

HiP Paris Blog examines the growing anti-smoking movement in FranceLuis Lozano

The anti-smoking movement continues to gain popularity, so much so that the French Ministry of Health has introduced a website called Ma Terrasse Sans Tabac which lists nearby bars and restaurants that prohibit smoking on their outdoor terraces. A press release from the Health Ministry explained that the new resource would “allow the French to find terraces that are totally or partially smoke free”.

Ma Terrasse Sans Tabac is just one step taken to advance the National Program to Reduce Tobacco Addiction. Recent efforts to promote the cause include the arrival on May 20th of “plain” cigarette packaging in France which rids cigarette packs of logos and designs in the hopes of making them less appealing to the consumer.

HiP Paris Blog examines the growing anti-smoking movement in FranceRiccardo Fissore

France has come a long way since the days of smoke filled bars and restaurants. We may even see the day when the country adopts California-style severity when it comes to smoking in public outdoor spaces. It is a noble attempt at reducing nicotine addiction in France, but somehow I think the benefits are most enjoyed by non-smokers and not those who stubbornly insist on keeping up their habit. Nevertheless, it is encouraging to know that somewhere in the French countryside a group of teachers is smoking outside, while their colleagues correct papers and catch up in a teachers’ lounge free from clouds of cigarette smoke.

Related Links

  • Want to know how to be a non-smoker among smokers? Learn about fauxking.
  • Read about France’s new anti-smoking measures.
  • Plus, no more glamorous cigarette names.

Written by Emily Dilling for HiP Paris. Looking for a fabulous vacation rental in Paris, London, Provence, or Tuscany? Check out Haven In.


Emily Dilling

Emily Dilling is a France based writer and author of My Paris Market Cookbook: A Culinary Tour of French Flavors and Seasonal Recipes. In 2005 Emily moved to Paris from her native California and began exploring the cities markets, restaurants, and cafés. In 2010 she founded the blog Paris Paysanne, where she writes about her favorite addresses and artisans in the city. Emily currently lives in the Loir-et-Cher region of France, where she writes and works in the grapevines.


  1. I have commented too many times and repeating myself, I apologize, I guess I feel strongly about this 🙂

  2. In reply to a comment above- there is NOTHING SEXY about a person who reeks of cigarette smoke with their yellow teeth and wrinkles around their eyes from squinting from smoke all the time ( most people never realize that is the reason, they think it is age)
    Maybe int the 1950s people thought it was sexy or cool but with time we have all learned that there is nothing sexy about lung cancer or brain cancer and premature aging and all the atrocious side effects of being addicted to smoking.
    Even guns .. you can’t walk into a convenience store and buy a gun and go shoot yourself or someone else, teenagers can’t go into the shop and buy a gun ..I totally agree with Jacqueline, Americans don’t need guns or cigarettes ..
    Sadly those who are uneducated, careless, weak and arrogant, will smoke regardless and sadly not only will they die but who knows how many people they contaminated all those years will die too.

  3. Smoking not only takes a persons life but leave their dear once in pain for the whole life. To quit smoking is the best thought save our precious life.

  4. I don’t think “guns” and smoking and the rights to do either are anything similar.
    And personal freedom was a defense / excuse for those who want to continue to be able to smoke wherever they want to.

    Obviously you can die from guns and many people die from smoking but you could say driving a car is similar, you can kill someone in an accident .. or yourself.

    Smoking is a habit. It is unhealthy. We can protect ourselves and our children, we can’t make smokers stop , it is still their right … but we can definitely make sure the environment that we and our children live in , is not toxic .. or less toxic .
    I had a friend who never smoked in her life .. but she worked somewhere where smoking was allowed. She had lung cancer.

    Smokers will fight to the end for their freedom to smoke.
    Non smokers don’t want to fight to the end for their freedom to live /breathe..

  5. While most people probably shouldn’t smoke…there are plenty who enjoy it at times or maybe a little each day…smoking is sexy, smoking is cool and having to stand with other smokers outside means you get a chance to meet more people=you have a bond, a chance to have a conversation you’d never have. My feeling is…you should be able to handle it whether you smoke or not. I’ll never forget a few years ago I was walking in central park, nyc and lit a cigarette when a younger woman came up to me saying, “you can’t smoke in the park.” childish nanny I thought. There’s got a place in between were we respect each other’s rights to enjoy their lives and respect the greater public’s. Too often though these days we have do gooders trying to tell everyone what’s good for them. Boring.

  6. I have spent a lot of time in Paris over the last three years, and what I find appalling is the utter lack of concern about where those cigarette butts go….anywhere and everywhere….all the time. Then, one must listen to the French go on and on about the health of the planet. Complete lack of self knowledge.

  7. Thank you so much for the Ma Terrasse sans tabac site! I HATE cigarette smoke. It gives me a huge headache. But I love sitting outside and people watching. In the past few years, I’ve been visiting Paris once a year, and I find it depressing to have to hide inside to avoid the cloud of smoke on the terrasse. According to the website, there still aren’t many “sans fumée” terrasses yet, but I did spot one not too far from where I’ll be staying on my next visit in a few short weeks. I’ll be sure to check it out. Et, encore une fois, un gros merci !

  8. Interesting analogy can be found with the US and its gun culture. Taking away guns = taking away personal freedom, even though in both cases the end result is often death! I just wish the US would finally ban guns the way it banned smoking (and now at least France is going in the right direction) but unfortunately it’s not going to happen.

  9. I remember how sophisticated and “french” it looked when they smoked.. in the movies. Where I couldn’t actually smell it 🙂
    Having a grandfather , a Marine Sgt, A Chef in big deal restaurants, a tall “healthy” man … who smoked all his life and died of lung cancer made me very sure not to ever smoke.

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