Last week in Strasbourg introduced me to one of those quirks of life under our new puritan masters. I was invited to take part in a lock in. Now you might think that in a country with only a vague idea of licensing hours that in itself is a bit of a misnomer. How could it be possible you might say to have a lockin after hours when there are no set hours, bars stay open as long as the publican want them to.
Of course this is a modern lock in. One that has been forced upon Gaston and his bar by the new smoking ban in France. Gaston (name changed to protect the guilty) is a smoker. His two staff are smokers, and so are most of his clients. He still sells cigarettes from a drawer behind the bar, but as a sop to good humour he has a large stack of chocolate cigarettes to give to his customers.
As the last few left Gaston motioned me over. The door was locked and he poured me a vodka.
“Enfin”, he said. “At last we can have a smoke”. He pulled out an ashtray as if it were contraband.
“If the police saw this I could fined €5,000. If they saw you it would be €80 for you but €250 for me”.
This has got to be wrong. He is doing nobody any harm. Passive smoking has virtually no impact on health and yet though he and his staff have no problem with tobacco. You might not like the smell, nor might the French authorities, but nobody is dragooned into the bar. But all this is at naught.
Gaston has to go the moonfleet way just to enjoy his own habit in his own front room.
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