It’s school lunch-break and Karim, 17, steps on to the pavement outside his Paris lycée gasping for a cigarette. He is studying sciences, wants to be an estate agent and finds school OK. But he always nips out at lunchtime for a puff. “It’s just the one cigarette. I’ve smoked since I was 16,” he says, taking a drag. “I like getting out of school to get some air. But, amazingly, these days the teachers would have allowed me to just light up a cigarette in the school courtyard.”
A floppy-fringed boy in an anorak agrees. His mum doesn’t know he smokes, so he didn’t want to give his name. But at 15 – still three years off France’s legal smoking age of 18 – he is delighted he is now able to have his 10am, midday and 3pm smokes in the school playground with school ashtray provided, rather than have to rush off the premises for a sneaky puff. “Staying in school to smoke saves so much time. You don’t have to run out of the school gate, then run back in to find your next lesson. It’s more practical and less stressful,” he says, exhaling.
Pupils suddenly being allowed to smoke inside high schools must be one of the weirdest side-effects of France’s current state of emergency. It has been four months since November’s terrorist attacks on Paris killed 130 people. But France is still living under a nationwide state of emergency made up of a raft of special powers that hark back to the Algerian war in the 1950s. The emergency measures – which have allowed police to conduct thousands of searches without a warrant or judicial oversight and place at least 290 people under house arrest outside the normal legal process – have sparked criticism from lawyers and United Nations experts. Rights groups have warned that Muslims have been unfairly targeted. There have been legal challenges.