French Fight Cigarette Reform: Or, How the West Was Won

By Chris Collins

The story was always French. It was only ever a matter of just how French it would be.

Cigarettes. Long, slender, sleek—much like a Frenchman or an ermine. They weren’t the start of our story, but I think by the end you’ll agree, they were always the heart beating this gnarled wordy epitaph into hypertension.

Two weeks ago, I was nothing more than a man with a task: get the insider scoop of a Frenchman’s life at UCLA. I was given nothing more than the white of my teeth, pay and a half, a room at the Luskin Center, per diem, and a translator in case things got hairy. 

Now, two weeks ago seems like three.

Jean-Paul is a Frenchman. It wasn’t immediately apparent to me, but it became apparent as he spoke English with an accent that could only be described as “French.” Pressing my nose to his grindstone, I labored without rest, twisting the rag of Jean-Paul, getting every drop I could to land on the maiden page. 

Things were going Frenchly, until something happened. 

Jean-Paul smoked. I saw him do it. I don’t mean smoked Juuls like what you or I would recognize as the behavior of a regular person. No. I mean Jean-Paul smoked cigarettes. 

At first I tried telling him that he would die. I was emphatic and repeated everything slowly so he’d understand. The thought of hairiness even made me have Jimmy, French 2, our translator to the stars, step in. But upon being challenged in his mother tongue, Jean-Paul put up a fight that could only make me hear the sweet cannonfire of American Revolution and see Betsy Ross’ comely patriotism. 

It became clear that to Jean-Paul cigarettes were as much a part of his culture as freedom and vaping were to ours. This, dear reader, is where the strife sets in.

I’m sure you too have noticed the plethora of signs dispersed all throughout campus which read in Angleterre: “No smoking.” It even goes so far as to depict a little cigarette and is so cheeky as to have a circle with a line running right through the middle of that cigarette not quite unlike a guillotine. As of now, I’m sure the issue has become blindingly apparent to you, my NJHS audience.

UCLA claims to be a campus of inclusion. How could this be true and yet at the same time, I could stand there and watch as this cultural erasure took place right before my eyes? “No smoking on campus.” Practically the same as saying, “No Jean-Paul on campus.” The French man was clearly not included in the microcosmic social schema of the University of California, Los Angeles. 

“Might as well go back to France, Jean-Paul. You and your French men are not welcome here,” parler-ed UCLA with all 419 of its acres in unison.

Nuh-uh. Not okay. Not on my watch. Thankfully, I, a non-French passing individual, still had some sway in this unjustly lawful place. I and a great deal more non-French passing individuals who have the “des balles” as Jean-Paul and his merry band of Frenchmen would say. 

Without sparing a second, we, the people, rushed to the doors of discourse and slammed on the accelerator that is student activism. We Would Not Take This. We would not let Jean-Paul take this. If he suffered Frenchly, then we too, Frenchly, would bear his, their, cross. 

It didn’t take long before we had the numbers of a homegrown militia, all twenty-two tall, knocking at the front door of Royce, waiting for the hammer to fall. After having the single 21 year old member of our group uncomfortably purchase us and Jean-Paul a pack of cigarettes, we all took out a long white freedom stick and smoked it right there where everyone could see us. No, no actually not where everyone could see us, but where we forced them to stare into the red burning eyes of their own bigoted hypocrisy.

Jean-Paul was so moved that he didn’t cry. He went—with all of us there supporting him, changing the cultural landscape that hopefully, one day, he too could colonize—to bravely smoke a cigarette. And smoke he did.

It wasn’t long after that campus police shot and killed Jean-Paul. Another Frenchman senselessly lost to smoking. 

The French have a saying, “If you want a revolution, you must first have an American.” 

We Americans have a saying of our own: “You can’t have a revolution without breaking a few oeufs.” 

*No French were harmed in the making of this story. If you or a loved one is French, please reach out to us so that we may add any and all necessary errata.*

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