Friday, August 29, 2008

The Problem with Smoking

Early this year, France outlawed smoking in all public places. All the smoking rooms became illegal and had to be removed. Unfortunately, the French themselves are still heavily addicted to tobacco, and smokers who go through several packs a day are still legion.

The combination of a complete ban and a population that still includes many heavy smokers has produced a strange phenomenon. Pass any large place of business in Paris, at any time during the working day, and you'll see a crowd of people puffing away on their cigarettes in front of the main entrance. The bigger the building, the more smokers it will have in front, all day long. You have to walk through them to get in or out of the building. Seeing the number of them busy indulging their addictions and multiplying by the number of hours in the business day, one gets a feel for how much money and time these people are wasting for their employers as they take endless breaks for a fix.

If you really want to see this extended to almost a comical degree, go to La Défense, the huge high-rise business district just outside Paris, within sight of the Louvre and Arc de Triomphe. Buildings that accommodate thousands of people invariably have crowds of well-dressed office workers in front of them, all with cigarettes in their hands. If they were sitting on the sidewalk with needles in their arms, there's be a huge outcry about it—but since so many people in France are tobacco addicts, it apparently is allowed to slide. Still, it's money out the window, and I think it makes a poor impression to have a band of toxicomanes (drug addicts) milling about in front of the entrance to a chic skyscraper.

As it happens, the heaviest smokers tend to be young women. It's quite disappointing to see otherwise beautiful women, barely out of their teens (or sometimes still in their teens), walking down the avenues puffing on cigarettes. With the overall life expectancy in France, they're likely to spend the latter decades of their lives gasping for breath as the consequences of all those years of heavy smoking start to show. It's like the United States … with the clock turned back by 50 years.

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