Our opinions on what is acceptable change rapidly. Who could imagine people smoking in a cinema, an airplane or an office today? A bar though is different. In Paris, they were the smokers' second home. Their ceilings were painted with the mustard tints of decades of rising smoke, and the misty haze was an integral part of the bar's soul. It will take time to get used to the new Gitanes-free Paris bar.
It was on the 1st January, the day after the end of year festivities, that the new law came into force. Curiously enough, the changes were welcomed by a large majority of people, smokers included. Nearly two years later though, we are now starting to see the more unexpected repercussions. Takings are down in bars, and several North African Hookah cafés have been forced to close. Some people though see the law as one of the final nails in the coffin of a declining Paris nightlife.
A collective of bars, nightclubs and event organisers have launched a website and petition to protest against the ever increasing number of laws and by-laws that are damaging their trade. Their chief complaint is that the anti-smoking law has forced them to take responsibility for a zone outside of their establishment, the place where smokers now gather to puff on their cigarettes. Laughter and noisy conversations that would once have been muffled inside the warmth of the bar now float up to the windows of neighbours who are more and more likely to complain to the authorities.
The response of the city of Paris has been to launch its own website: http://www.parisnightlife.fr/. This site provides a database of restaurants, bars and clubs that are open at night, and gives a listing of upcoming events. The goal has been to show visitors that Paris still exists after 10pm, but in some respects it misses the point. Paris is still open at night, but what is left of its soul? The volume has been turned down and live music unplugged. Perhaps we can see more clearly now and have fresher smelling clothes when we get home, but will the city still attract young visitors in the years ahead against more lively competition in London, Berlin or Barcelona?