It’s no contest that Paris, the City of Light, is a visual splendor. Ornate monuments enhance the skyline and decorate the Seine. However, if you spend even just a few minutes checking out the sidewalks of Paris, you will see that they are decorated with other kinds of lights. In between dog crap, papers and spit, there are literally millions of cigarette butts lining the city streets.
When the Parisians are done huffing and puffing and looking really cool, they just throw their butts away — out of windows, cars, stores and into the streets. It is a grand example of the Parisian paradox. They care about looking good themselves but they don’t care about how their city looks. So, the politicians took over and made a law.
In theory, this new law went into effect in Paris in September 2015. Well, at least you can see posters explaining it on the city’s garbage trucks. I have yet to see it be enforced.
The law says that you will be fined 68 Euros (the price of a carton of cigarettes) for each cigarette butt you throw on a public street. (You would, of course, have to be caught in the act by one of the more than 500 agents who have been hired to enforce this legislation…not an easy thing.) The city of Paris is installing 10,000 municipal ash trays – stylish and chic metal garbage cans to make it easy for smokers. I honestly don’t think that will help. It would be easier to totally ban smoking in the street than to make people be responsible for their own trash.
When I moved to Paris in the 80’s, I was culturally shocked when I saw people throw their cigarette butts on the cafe floor while they had their cup of coffee. Where this would be unacceptable in the USA, here it was considered normal behavior. A waiter would come and sweep them up every couple of hours or so. The individual Parisian was not responsible for his own trash. Private society took care of it. Now that you can no longer smoke inside cafes, smokers, having kept the same gesture of flicking their butts away, just move their flicks out onto the streets.
It’s not irresponsibility; it’s a reflex…a smoker’s reflex that they learned when they started smoking. Old habits die hard….or just get passed on from generation to generation.
I have seen Parisians throw butts out of their balcony windows and onto the street – sometimes barely missing a baby in his stroller or a bald-headed pedestrian. Not only is this disgusting but it’s also dangerous since these butts are often still lit. An unenforceable law is not the answer. The new law says the “flicker” needs to be caught in the act..an act that takes only a second or two to complete. That’s never gonna happen. However, I did get to thinking about how the French managed to get their drivers to slow down on the highways. The police hardly stop speeders anymore. They just photo-flash them and send them fines in the mail. OK, they do happen to have the license plate as an indicator of whom to send the fine to but we could get creative here.
What if the city of Paris set up cameras targeting the most butt-filled places in Paris? They could position discreet cameras outside of popular bars and spy on the litterbugs. Then the police could just ask for the person’s identity card and send them the photo and the 68 euro fine in the mail. For repeat offenders, the fines would be tripled and soon the litterbugs would be financing their own clean-up or, better still, there would be no need for it. Or, how about the city of Paris paying for the return of cigarette butts to specified places? They could pay-by-the-kilo to people who help clean up the streets – they could
assign them specific streets in their neighborhood. I’m sure that would be cheaper than trying to enforce the new law. Or how about smokers being able to buy a new pack of cigarettes only if they brought back the butts from their last pack? That’s certainly thinking out of the box!
It is a New Year and time to make new resolutions. Instead of resolving to stop smoking, the Parisians could just promise to pick up after themselves and make their personal smoking a private matter. They could simply keep their butts off the ground of this beautiful city.