Au revoir les cigarettes

Each year, 60,000 people in France die from tobacco use.

There are many symbols of French culture, and cigarettes are certainly one of them. It takes little effort to imagine a Parisian café in mid-afternoon, where patrons leisurely page through magazines and smoke cigarettes as the faint sound of an accordion serenades in the distance. The scene comes so readily, the stereotype fits so snuggly, that news of a country-wide smoking ban in France surprised many.

Even more surprising is the opinion polls suggesting that 70 percent of the country supports the ban. The wide support is built strongly on the harmful effects of tobacco use. The government reports that each year, 60,000 people in France die from tobacco consumption and another 5,000 die from passive smoking.

As is the case of many smoking bans, the announcement was met with sharp disapproval from a percentage of the population. Minnesota is no stranger to this occurrence. Last year, proposed smoking bans in the Twin Cities were faced with the usual arguments: people should have the right to choose, let the market find a solution and smoking bans damage business were some of the most common. However, these arguments against smoking bans are appallingly superficial, and they don’t own up to the more important issues, such as lives lost or the state’s economic burden.

Smoking is an individual decision, but the effects are not limited to the individual. For example, tobacco-related illnesses cost the state of Minnesota $2 billion dollars annually. Furthermore, there’s little evidence to support the notion that bans harm businesses, and smoking bans reduce the health risks of employees working in smoky conditions. It’s unlikely that the market would find a solution of similar worth.

Smoking and secondhand smoke needlessly take lives every day. One can only hope that the trend of anti-smoking measures continues in our society and throughout the world. Many U.S. cities and European countries are taking a wise approach to this public health issue by facing the facts. It is hoped these efforts will ultimately divorce smoking from our culture and from our everyday lives.