Paris, France

At midnight on 1st January 2008 it became illegal to smoke in public spaces throughout France. Due to a concession it remained legal to smoke indoors throughout New Year’s Day.

Sitting in a bar just after midnight. The floor is clean, white tiles, and there are no ashtrays on the tables. I sit at a table with a beer, not smoking. A man who was propping up the bar steps outside for a cigarette, moving about in an attempt to keep warm. He comes back in complaining about the cold. Usually there would be a mound of cigarette butts lining the foot of the bar so you can’t see where the bar ends and the floor begins. In France prices are lower if you stand at the bar, and though ashtrays were usually provided, people seemed to prefer using the floor.

A group of men dressed in black walk in. One is desperate for the toilet. A couple of the others want to buy cigarettes. This place is not a tabac. Tabacs are the only places allowed to sell cigarettes, but late at night when the tabacs are closed many bars sell them under the counter at an inflated price – about €8,50 for a packet, whereas you would pay €5,50 in a tabac.

A man in an overcoat walks in holding a lit cigarette, apparently having forgotten the new law. No one notices, but he seems to suddenly realize, perhaps spotting the lack of ashtrays and smoke. He drops his cigarette on the floor and discretely stubs it out with his foot, then, after shaking hands with a couple of people he leaves. One of the bar-props notices the butt and points it out to the barman. The barman comes round to the front of the bar and they both stand staring at the butt for a while, neither one of them speaking, as if a turd has just appeared on the floor. The barman kicks it over to the foot of the bar, where today it would have found many friends and relatives but now it is all alone. The barman wipes away the black marks it has made with his foot.

The following night I’m sitting outside another bar, warmed by a gas heater. A number of bars and restaurants have canvas covered outside areas with such heaters blasting away. Sometimes these areas have canvas or perspex sides, making them almost interiors, but not quite, at least not as far as the law is concerned. Others just have small canopy, with the vast majority of the heat dissipating into the atmosphere. The one I’m in has one partially open side to it. Though it is a cold night it is quite warm sitting directly under a heater, though not warm enough to take my coat off. Some passers by stop in to warm themselves and smoke. This outside area of the bar has more people in it than the inside.

There are no ashtrays. The floor is littered with cigarette butts. I decided before Christmas, after a brief period of not smoking, that I would quit when France quits, but France doesn’t appear to have quit, it’s just moved outside.

My prediction for 2008: France’s carbon emissions will increase due to its outdoor heating pour les fumeurs.

BBC: Smoke ban ‘threatens environment’

Top garden centre to ban patio heaters

Energy Saving Trust