Jean-Paul Sartre and Jacques Tati might shortly be allowed to smoke in public again …

On January 19, 2011, French MPs approved a bill that excludes “cultural heritage” from the (too large) scope of French Law No. 91-32, dated 10 January 1991: the so-called and controversial “Loi Evin”, related to “the fight against tobacco and alcoholism”.

The Loi Evin forbids, notably, any advertising for alcohol or tobacco products, including on billboards. Consequently, since 1991, some advertising agencies and/or legal advisers have imposed self-censorship on their clients in order to avoid any prosecution in that respect. The more reckless have been condemned by the French courts and have been enjoined to remove cigarettes or pipes from pictures featuring famous French celebrities.

The issue became an international “cause célèbre” in 2009 when a Paris festival for the centenary of Jacques Tati was ordered to remove the actor’s famous pipe from an advertising poster. The controversial poster was replaced by a poster of Tati cycling with a child’s toy windmill gripped in his teeth.

In 2005, the French existentialist philosopher, Jean-Paul Sartre was forced, posthumously, to stop smoking on a poster for an exhibition on his centenary at the Bibliothèque Nationale. More recently, such an extensive interpretation of the Loi Evin’s provisions has manifested itself throughout the distortion of movie posters featuring Coco Chanel or Serge Gainsbourg deprived of their cigarettes.

Facing such aberrations, some MPs have considered that, in connection with cultural artworks, freedom of expression should take precedent on the Loi Evin’s restrictions, which target the sole advertising and propaganda in favor of tobacco products. Such drifts lead to the suppression of material elements of cultural history, the evocation of tobacco being an integral part of the cultural work. In addition, in the bill, MPs consider that these cultural works are not financed, directly or indirectly, by tobacco industry, which moves aside the risk of indirect advertising for the tobacco companies.

Consequently, the scope of the Loi Evin has to be adapted to the cultural exception. The unique article of the bill intends to complete article L3511-3 of French Public Health code, with a third subdivision ( 3°) of the allowed exceptions:

Every sponsoring operation advertising, directly or indirectly, tobacco, tobacco products, or any other products listed in the second paragraph of the article L.3511-1 contained in this Code, is strictly forbidden. (…) such provisions do not apply to: (…)

3° artistic or cultural works made available to public and in which a picture or a reference related to tobacco is featured, non financed, directly or indirectly, by tobacco industry and which have not for purpose to advertise or make propaganda for tobacco companies”.

 If, as expected, both the Sénat and the Assemblée Nationale take the cultural affairs committee’s advice, dead celebrities on movie or exhibition posters will no longer have their cigarettes or pipes amputated!

A.K

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