Lunch at the Restaurant Fournaise

Yesterday I came across a painting – Lunch at the Restaurant Fournaise – by Pierre-Auguste Renoir. Since Renoir died in 1919, it must have been painted some years before the outbreak of WW1, depicting as it does a scene of idyllic peace.


I couldn’t help but think that the young man lounging back in his chair, smoking a cigarette, and gazing into the distance, would quite likely have been dead a few years after the painting had been finished, blown to bits at Verdun or some other battlefield. So also the slightly older man on the left. And the young lady in the foreground might well have become the widow of one of them.

So this morning  when my eyes fell upon a packet of Golden Virginia with the loud banner, in black and white, imperiously announcing that “Smoking kills“, I wondered: “Does it?”

Does it? Does it really? I think it’s things like howitzers and machine guns and rifles and grenades and chlorine gas that kill people. I think plague and dysentery and cholera and typhoid kill people. I think that air and car and rail crashes kill people. But I’ve never heard of anyone ever being killed by cigarettes, dropping dead within minutes of smoking one – or even smoking twenty or a hundred.

If – and it’s a very, very big if – smoking kills anyone at all, it is as some sort of very slow-acting poison, that takes almost an entire lifetime to have its fatal effect. If “smokers die younger”, as another one of these banners declares, they don’t seem to die very much younger than anyone else. And some of them, like Jeanne Calment, outlive more or less everyone.

It’s an exaggeration to say that smoking kills. It’s also an exaggeration to print this assertion as a large black and white banner. And it’s a further vast exaggeration to print it on every single tobacco product in the entire world – which is what is now happening.

What profound contempt these antismoking zealots must have for smokers, that they seem to believe that they will only get the message if they read it two hundred thousand times. Isn’t once enough? Or do they believe that anything is only ever learned by endless rote repetition, like times tables or Latin conjugations? If that’s how they think that anything ever gets learned, doesn’t it suggest that this is the only way that the zealots themselves have ever learned anything? And is learning anything in such parrot-fashion true learning? Isn’t it just repetition?

But perhaps these banner headlines are not intended for us dumb smokers, but to deter those who might be considering taking up the fatal pastime? Perhaps the idea is to prevent children from starting smoking? But is that likely, given that many children won’t have learnt to read until they have already started smoking, and will be unable to comprehend the message in the warning banners?

Or maybe these banner headlines are intended neither for smokers nor curious children, but instead to tell the world. For I can read the half-inch size letters on the banners from 20 feet away. Perhaps the idea is that, once you’ve taken out the packet of cigarettes in some bar or restaurant, everyone at nearby tables will quickly learn that they are in the presence of another dying smoker, who is about to launch a deadly gas attack upon them.

Whichever way, since we are now learning that all sorts of other things are also slowly killing us – alcohol, sugar, salt, meat, fat, etc, etc – shouldn’t the warning banners say something like “Smoking (along with drinking, eating, sitting in armchairs, global warming, etc.) kills”? Perhaps the only reason they don’t is that this would dilute the otherwise pithy message.

Or is it that, once “Smoking kills” has begun to outshout “Golden Virginia”, it will replace the brand name. And customers will begin to ask for “a packet of Smoking Kills, please,” or “May I have 20 Smoking Causes Fatal Lung Cancer, please.”

And does it really matter how long anyone lives? Is that the only measure of a life, how long it lasted? Was the life of that doomed young man in Renoir’s painting worth any the less for being so sharply truncated? We are all going to die one day anyway. Or perhaps it’s this fact of life that the zealots cannot accept?

Pierre-Auguste Renoir lived to the age of 78, which is almost exactly the life expectancy of a man in the early 21st century, and so a long life 100 years earlier.

Here’s a video of him, shot in 1915, sat before a canvas, smoking a cigarette, which has been passed to him and then lit by one of his companions, because by 1915 he was suffering from rheumatoid arthritis.

I only hope that the antismoking owners of any Renoir painting realise that it is almost certainly coated in thirdhand tobacco smoke, slowly leeching out into the atmosphere and killing everyone for miles around. And Renoir paintings should carry health warnings.


About Frank Davis

This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

14 Responses to Lunch at the Restaurant Fournaise

  1. Thank you – really thoughtful post!

  2. Clicky says:

  3. Roobeedoo2 says:

    */looks for queue of loyal readers chomping at the bit to add insightful comment…*

    Lovely post Frank. As always. Enjoy the weekend :D

  4. DP says:

    Dear Mr Davis

    They are, of course, right: keep smoking, drinking alcohol, eating sugar, salt, meat, fat, etc, etc and we will eventually die, if we do it long enough.

    Studies have shown not drinking or eating will also kill us, but a lot quicker and in that order.

    Smoking may or may not extend life. Studies may show this too, unless it is funded by ash et al.

    Hope this helps.


  5. smokervoter says:

    This is from the upper reaches of THE DRUDGE REPORT today.

    Where have we seen this all before?

    The comments resemble a lively bull session here at the Bangin’ On CyberPub and Grille.

    But along comes an ardent antismoker (of Asian persuasion methinks) by the name of Hao De with this nugget of blind hatred for smokers:

    a more effective step along that path would be to tax breath. how about humans being taxed based on how often and how deeply they exhale that evil, polar bear killing, carbon dioxide. little kids with smaller lungs would be taxed less. same as the crusted up lungs of older, lifetime tobacco smokers.

    I’m left wondering how many of the commentariat would have just voted to collect $38 million dollars in annual tobacco taxes on California’s homeless population as per Prop 56.

    • waltc says:

      Read his “this” link. Mind-blower. Gotta hope that this extremist bs becomes their undoing. Meanwhile, I expect the cigarette to be airbrushed out of the Renoir, or at least the painting kept behind a curtain and labeled PG

  6. Chester Draws says:

    Come now. We know beyond any doubt that smoking decreases average life span. It’s tin foil hat territory to doubt it, which is why tobacco companies no longer even discuss the matter.

    It doesn’t decrease it very much though, and less than plenty of other risky behaviours — if risk was really an issue sky-diving and scuba diving would face a ban before smoking. As a result I dislike the current vilification of smokers.

    If you want to persuade people to relent on the harassment of smokers then face the facts. Show that the risk is low and point out things that are riskier. But pretending it is harmless makes you look like a fanatic — one who cannot face any contrary facts — and people will ignore you.

    To fight the anti-smoking zealots will inevitably mean you have to persuade non-smokers like me. But every time some smoker says that there is no reason to ban smoking anywhere — basically saying all those that hate the smell are wrong — you put yet another person into the opposition camp.

    I’ve read quite a lot of pro-smoking sites recently, and pro-smoking are their own worst enemies. Because they like it, which is reasonable, they say there is absolutely no reason why others should object to it, which is not logical at all.

    • Frank Davis says:

      We know beyond any doubt that smoking decreases average life span.

      That’s like saying we all know that carbon dioxide causes global warming. Some people believe it, and some people don’t.

      But every time some smoker says that there is no reason to ban smoking anywhere — basically saying all those that hate the smell are wrong — you put yet another person into the opposition camp.

      I think that there is no reason to ban smoking anywhere, because I think the risks associated with environmental tobacco smoke are negligible. But that’s not the same as saying that those who hate the smell are wrong. Hating the smell of something is a subjective judgement, like hating the smell of boiled cabbage. It’ll vary from person to person. It’s not a matter of right or wrong. It’s what they like or don’t like. Everyone has different tastes. What people like or don’t like has nothing to do with whether it is risky or not.

      But just because I don’t think that there’s any reason to ban smoking anywhere, doesn’t mean that I think smoking should be permitted everywhere. The simple solution is to have pubs and restaurants, or rooms within them, in which smoking is or is not permitted, depending on the owner’s choice. Is that any different from having restaurants which offer vegetarian or non-vegetarian dishes, or churches with different denominations, or sports grounds where very different games are played – e.g. golf, tennis, OR cricket. Why does there have to be a one-size-fits-all approach? Must we all eat vegetarian food, and worship in one single church, and all play golf and golf alone?

    • Roobeedoo2 says:

      ‘If you want to persuade people to relent on the harassment of smokers then face the facts. Show that the risk is low and point out things that are riskier.’

      So pick on someone else to big yourself up?Hmm… */thinks…*Oh, like vaperers regularly do?

      Okay. I’m sold – you should hear how well it’s going for them on Twitter; they’re cock-a-hoop at all the battles they’re winning.

      I know, seeing as you’ve kindly supplied a couple of examples of riskier pastimes. which one should we smokers go after? Sky or scuba divers? Personally, I’m scared of heights, so I’ll probably vote ‘sky’. But what’s your preference, Chester? Your brilliant idea, come on tell us which of the two you hate more? Or have got another suggestion all together?

    • nisakiman says:

      We know beyond any doubt that smoking decreases average life span.

      Have you read this short article, CD?

      Preliminary report

      By Rosalind B. Marimont

      For years the anti-tobacco crusaders, from Drs. Koop and Kessler to President Clinton, have claimed that “cigarette smoking is the greatest cause of preventable or premature deaths, causing 400,000 deaths a year, a number greater than auto accidents, homicide, suicide, and various other causes of death combined.”

      They have used this statement to brand tobacco public health enemy number 1, and to justify huge amounts of money, time, and attention to the war on smoking, while all but ignoring alcohol and drug abuse.

      Incredibly, analysis of the ages of the 400K supposed deaths computed by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) SAMMEC (Smoking Attributable Mortality, Morbidity and Economic Costs) program shows that tobacco is not a major health threat at all – the supposed victims did not die early!

      OVER 70,000, or about 17%, DIED “PREMATURELY” AT AGES GREATER THAN 85.

      If so many of the smoking victims are old, and so few young, and if, on the average, they live longer than the rest of us, how are their deaths “premature”? According to the technical definition used by SAMMEC, any “smoking related” death is considered premature. There is no upper age limit to the computation.

      These astonishing numbers, which totally demolish the main argument of the anti-smoking movement, are the result of my analysis of the SAMMEC age distribution computations for the years 1990-1994, provided, at my request, by the Office of Smoking and Health (OSH) of the CDC. For comparison with other deaths, I used 1992 mortality statistics of the National Center for Health Statistics.

      On the other hand, the deaths slighted in the 400K statements are premature. For example, the average ages at death of motor accident victims was 39, of suicides 45, and of homicide victims 32, compared to 70 for the general population. These non-smoking deaths total about 98000, of which about 50% are under 35, and are largely alcohol and drug related.

      The SAMMEC methodology has been criticized by many epidemiologists, statisticians, and all purpose general applied mathematicians like me on technical grounds, which are usually not comprehensible to non-specialists. But these age numbers are easy to understand – How is tobacco the number one killer, when its “victims” live longer than the rest of us?

      Rosalind B. Marimont

      Rosalind B. Marimont is a mathematician and scientist now
      retired after a 37-year career with the National Institute of Standards and Technology (formerly the Bureau of Standards) and
      the National Institute of Health.

      There’s another interesting article which she penned with Robert A Levy.

      Robert A. Levy is a senior fellow in constitutional studies at the Cato Institute and an adjunct professor at Georgetown
      University Law Center where he teaches “Statistics for Lawyers.”

      Both articles rather cast doubt on your ‘statement of fact’ which I quote at the beginning of this comment. I know that for most people it’s taken as an indisputable fact, but that’s because it has been repeated constantly for the last few decades, and as Goebbels once said, ‘if you tell a lie big enough, and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it’. The actual raw data, without spin or interpretation, tend to cast some doubt on the claim that smoking is responsible for decreasing lifespan, though.

      “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
      Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”

  7. Lepercolonist says:

    To those that do not like the smell of smoke may I recommend a health scan machine upon entry of any public area. We can ban those with halitosis, body odor, strong perfume, bad cologne…

  8. smofunking says:

    I used to ask for a packet of Smoking Kills when they first came out. However, it was pointed out that nearly all the brands went by that name.

No need to log in

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.