French smokers are up in arms over the decision by some Parisian brasseries to ban smoking on their exterior terraces. I decided see if the idea was catching on in the classier establishments of downtown Lyon.
The French are known to possess the potential for revolution, having proved it on two occasions in the last few hundred years, and if things continue as some no-smoking lobbyists would like them to, they may well have a good excuse to begin a third.
Smoking was banned in many public places in France in 2007 and that list of places was extended to include bars, restaurants and nightclubs in 2008. The French - very surprisingly moreover – accepted the ban with a lot of moaning and griping but what little resistance there was in terms of bars refusing to apply it soon disappeared in, as they say, a puff of smoke.
Not content with that however, some Parisian establishments recently decided to ban smoking on their outside terraces too, much to the horror of smokers everywhere. To add to their woes, the association ‘Droits des Non-Fumeurs’ (Rights for non-Smokers) intends to lobby for more restaurants and bars to ban smoking on their terraces and they have announced their intention of publishing a list of no-smoking terraces in Paris on their website.
But could the idea catch on in Lyon? There are hundreds of terraces in downtown Lyon and I decided to find out if smoking a satisfying cigarette with an expresso or an aperitif would become a thing of the past in some places here.
My first stop was at L’Espace Carnot, an up market brasserie and watering hole for travelers arriving at Perrache train station in need of more than a railway sandwich and warm beer.
“No way!” exclaimed Yoomee, almost dropping the glass she was drying in shock. “As is the case for attacks on press freedom, this is an attempt to censor individual freedom. This is how wars get started! What next? Will they ban breathing? This is a very serious matter and if we carry on like this there’s no limit to what may be banned.”
She ended her stinging criticism of the Parisian initiative with a withering “Anyway, this is Lyon, not Paris.” It should be made clear to the reader that Paris and the Parisians do not enjoy a good reputation in this fiercely independently-minded city.
Here is a view showing part of their large terrace. It’s 3 in the afternoon so it’s almost empty, but it’s packed at lunchtime and in the evening.
Laure is the Manageress of the Hippopotamus, a classical-style French brasserie with a terrace surrounded by large plants in order to provide its clientele with some privacy from passers-by. She hadn’t actually heard about the issue, but her opinion on it was clear. “If people don’t want to be around others who smoke, well, all they have to do is come inside, where smoking’s forbidden. Would I impose a ban outside? No way!”
Moving on to one of the more chic pizza joints, the Pizza Pino, I came upon the first person to agree with the ban on terraces, Maitre d’Hôtel and manager Amato Matteo. “I would forbid smoking outside” he says unhesitatingly “because there are too many people who are at risk from second-hand smoke, most notably pregnant women and children. People have gotten used to not smoking indoors, so why couldn’t it work outdoors too?
That said, he would have a hard job persuading his clientele, which consists mainly of better-off and trendily dressed younger people and businessmen, the latter often accompanied by what looks like their secretaries, oddly enough.
The Bar Américain is an institution here and its clientele is a mixture of the usual young people who like to be seen on the more exclusive terraces downtown and a fair smattering of people over 60 for some reason. Chrystel Pacaud oversees its smooth-running operations and she tells me she gave up smoking back in January.
“So from a personal point of view I think it would be a good idea, but I also understand that although public health issues are important, so are people’s individual freedoms.” I press her to decide what she would do if she had to decide one way or the other. “My answer would be no” she replies, not before having thought hard. “In objective terms it wouldn’t be good for business.”
The Arcades Brasserie is one of my favorite haunts when I’m in the Opera area of town, so I pop in to see the affable and elegant owner, Sam Abecassis. He sits me down, offers me a beer (gladly accepted – it’s hot) and begins his answer to the question with a well-known French saying. “People’s freedom ends where the freedoms of others begin.” He declares his commitment to responsible behavior of citizens, which means not annoying non-smokers with one’s own smoke, but he insists that that must be tempered in consideration of smokers’ rights.
“Not only that, but if they stop people smoking on terraces, it’ll only be a matter of time before they ban smoking in the street. You’d have to be mentally sick to want to control people to that extent.” He also says that if ever a law did ban smoking outside, he, as a member of the good conduct in eating establishments and bars association ‘Service First’ would refuse to enforce it as would the association’s members in general.
I go outside onto the terrace to finish my beer in the sunshine, and who should I meet but two chatty and bubbly law students, Martine and Alex. They are lighting up so I ask them what they would think of being told to put their cigarettes out.
Alex says “What an idiotic idea. I was in Manhattan recently and we couldn’t smoke on terraces there. That’s so dumb.” Asked for a two-word opinion on the Parisian experiment, Martine says “Useless and stupid.” That has the merit of being clear. Then, as lawyers do, they discuss whether or not it would be constitutionally legal to ban smoking outside. And, as lawyers also do, they don’t agree. Martine says it would be legal and Alix has her doubts.
All in all I visited about a dozen places, and the final tally was ten against, one for, and one undecided.
I went home relieved that, as a smoker, it seemed a safe bet that I would not have to move to another town because Lyon banned smoking on its terraces. Besides, if there’s one thing that people from Lyon do not do, it’s to agree with anything that the enemy – and that means Parisians - say or do.