Smoke signals from France
The news that France is introducing a ban on smoking in public places early next year is sure to have raised a few eyebrows this side of the channel.
Many enduring images of French icons, from Sartre to Béart, depict them cigarette in hand. Surely the land of the Gauloise is ringing with cries of indignation?
Perhaps not. In spite of perceptions to the contrary, the prevalence of smoking in France (30.5% of adults, just above the EU average) is only a few percentage points higher than the UK (25%). And, perhaps more tellingly, recent research suggests that at least 70% of the French population support a ban on smoking perhaps as many as 80%.
All of which serves to remind us that the English smoking ban is just around the corner. So what do people think of the legislation over here?
Qualitative research conducted over many years indicates that acceptance of controls on smoking is on the increase. These days it is common for smokers to say in groups that they never smoke in restaurants and that they welcome a ban in establishments that serve food.
Even the full ban on smoking in public places is often now seen (with hindsight) as inevitable, and some grudgingly acknowledge that it presents an opportunity to quit, or at least to cut down.
It will be several years before we have a true picture of how the new law is received. Will we accept the ban and comply with only minimal protest, looking back in astonishment ten years from now that we weren¹t quicker to bring it in? Or will the law be widely flouted and eventually repealed by a future government? The former seems more likely, judging by the mood among smokers in research groups.
And it may be, in the end, that money talks. Recent research found that English pubs that have already banned smoking have seen their profits rise by an average of 50%, largely as a result of increased food sales. Businesses may come to see the ban as an opportunity rather than a threat.
This article was first published in InBrief magazine, November 2006
Copyright © Association for Qualitative Research, 2006