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Somewhere Like Mars

photo: smokers parphenalia

Hard core smoker's kit, in detail.

Paris Life - No 29

by Laurel Avery

Paris:– Friday, 12 December 2003:– Stepping out of my apartment this morning, into one of those beautiful, sunny, crisp days in Paris that we get after days of rain, I took a breath of the fresh clean air.

Within ten steps my enjoyment of this rare occasion was significantly diminished by my nostrils being assaulted with the trailing cigarette smoke of the person walking in front of me. Cigarette smoke, like alcohol, is not something I am prepared to experience first thing in the morning.

Obviously, I am a non–smoker, though I have been known to have the occasional puff once or twice aphoto: michelin man ashtray year – mostly trying to figure out what people see in the stuff. Most of my friends, however, are lifelong smokers, as have been several of my boyfriends over the years.

As long as the smoke is not blowing directly in my face, I can live with it. Unfortunately, most cigarette smoke has a perverse way of knowing exactly where a non–smoker is sitting and seems to always drift exactly in their direction.

Hard core smoker's trash, with kitsch.

Just last month the French government, in an attempt to get people to quit smoking, instituted a 18 percent tax hike on a pack of cigarettes – to be followed in January by yet another 10 percent hike on top of that. The French tabac owners or 'buralistes' as they are called, have been staging strikes and protests ever since.

They claim their livelihood is being undermined since people will either buy fewer cigarettes or go across the nearest border to a country where they are cheaper. I'm supposed to feel sorry for these guys?

Hey, if they were selling something that didn't kill millions of people every year I'd be right in there with them. But feeling sorry for them is like feeling sorry for the American colonialists who gave smallpox–riddled blankets to the Indians in the 18th century.

I have a suggestion for all these whining buralistes – go sell something else! Like more 4€ thimblefuls of cafe au lait that are so popular here. Profits on these must be huge.

As for getting people to stop smoking, raising the price of cigarettes isn't going to do the trick. Nicotine is a drug, and people addicted to it will do whatever is necessary to get it. They don't carephoto: fumer tue, gitanes that their overall health suffers, their clothes and homes reek, it makes them look at least ten years older than they are and that they often contract illnesses that make them wheeze like a chorus of deranged mosquitoes. They are drug addicts, like any other drug addict, no matter how romantic they make it look in all those French movies.

Great smoker's package design ruined by addiction.

If someone really wants to quit they will quit. There's no need to go on telling them about how many people it kills every year, etcetera, etcetera. Every pack of cigarettes has a huge label on it, which often reads nothing more than "Fumer Tue" – Smoking Kills.

News flash! Unless they have been living under a rock since they were born, everybody knows smoking is bad for them. So why start in the first place? For people who feel they need to do something with their hands due to an excess of nervous energy, I suggest they take up knitting.

One thing I hope never to do again is to date a guy who is in the process of quitting smoking. He should either have quit already, or not want to quit at all. I have endured more than my fair share of being with a guy who is generally sweet and reasonable who, when he decides to quit smoking, makes Attila the Hun look warm and cuddly in comparison.

The worst part is that, after enduring living with his wild mood swings and irritability for the couple of weeks it takes for the physical addiction to be resolved, a month or two later he would go right back to smoking again, making all those endured days totally worthless. Never again.

Let's face it. People smoke because they want to, and the only thing that will deter them from doing so will be when smoking is not considered chic or sophisticated, but an indication of how incredibly stupid one is.

If France suddenly instituted a policy where all smokers had to wear big plastic bubbles around theirphoto: tabac, le saint cirgues heads when they smoked in public, that might help reduce the numbers. But knowing the French, big plastic bubbles would probably soon become fashionable.

I still don't believe anything should be illegal, even if it is harmful. Hey, anyone over 18 is considered an adult, and if someone wants to ruin their health, then so be it. The State should not be in the position of being everyone's nanny.

Smoke dealer's establishment. Note the distinctive 'carrots.'

But I do think they should tax the hell out of the stuff and put all the proceeds into an account for those of us who do not smoke so we can take an occasional all–expenses paid trip to a place where we can walk out into a beautiful new day with our lungs filled with nothing but clean air.

Somewhere like Mars perhaps.

Text & photos, Laurel Avery © 2003

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