When I first learned that Paris—like so many other cities—was banning smoking indoors, I had to see it to believe it. After a recent visit to the city of lights, however, it does appear that the change transpired relatively painlessly. Except in the city’s hookah dens.
Hookah bars, which have become increasingly popular across both Europe and the States, have held their own throughout France over the past decade or so. But after the smoking ban went into effect on January 2, an estimated one-third of some 800 establishments have been forced to close. Unlike cafés and restaurants, hookah bars lose their allure completely once smoking is removed from the equation.
The International Herald Tribune reports that the Hookah Professionals’ Union has been talking with President Nicolas Sarkozy in an effort to arrive at some sort of compromise. They haven’t had much luck yet, and Health Minister Roselyne Bachelot is showing no signs of budging on the issue.
So incensed is the union that it has threatened to appeal to even higher authorities. “This law is contrary to the spirit of free enterprise mentioned in the European Declaration of Human Rights,” union president Badri Helou told the IHT. “We’re ready to take this case to a European court.”
Some hookah bar owners have tried to deal with this obstacle creatively, turning their lounges into ventilated smoking rooms, which remain within the confines of the law (provided that the smoking rooms take up no more than 20 percent of the venue, and a max of 380 square feet). Others have resorted to hunger strikes: One Paris hookah bar owner has been on strike since the day the ban took effect.
In spite of these protestations, the police remain unimpressed. Having granted the bars a six-week grace period, any establishment that violates the new law against smoking is slapped with a €135 (about $215) fine.
The conflict presents an interesting dilemma: Should a law implemented in the interest of public health be bent in the interest of people whose livelihood comes from the propagation of a longstanding Middle Eastern tradition?
What do you think?
Photo: Olive via Flickr