Following the publication of a photo taken last week, French President Emmanuel Macron instantly became the world’s biggest vaping celebrity, easily leapfrogging past lesser lights like Leonardo DiCaprio and Katy Perry.
The image, apparently taken by Macron’s official photographer, shows the unshaven French leader heading to his office with a stack of files. He’s wearing a black hoodie with the insignia of an elite French commando unit, and carrying a vape device, almost (but not quite!) hidden in his right hand. (The image is shown in both tweets below.)
Philippe Poirson, writing in his blog Vapolitique, notes that, vaper or not, Macron has done little to correct public misperceptions about vaping during his first presidential term. “We don’t know how long Emmanuel Macron has been vaping,” writes Poirson (in Google translation). “However, Macron’s five-year term ends with a poor record regarding the political framework of the most popular and effective means of reducing risks in the face of smoking.”
Poirson is right, of course. Even though France has resisted major negative vaping policy trends (the country has no vape tax and has not proposed a flavor ban), the French president has a responsibility to share the truth. If Macron has converted from smoking to vaping, but declines to use his platform to encourage other smokers to switch, he hasn’t done his job, which includes protecting the health of French citizens.
Still, the Macron story—for jaded American vapers, anyway—is a welcome novelty. In the U.S., it is hard to imagine a politician self-outing as a vaper. Such a move would be rewarded with a round of scolding op-eds from the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids and American Lung Association, and be the subject of wilting abuse on Twitter.
While the movie, music, and fashion worlds are full of big names known to use e-cigarettes—like Samuel L. Jackson, Jack Nicholson, Katherine Heigl, Ron Wood, Marc Jacobs, Bella Hadid and Kate Moss—the list of vaping politicians is a short one. Aside from disgraced former U.S. Representative Duncan Hunter, who once vaped during a House committee meeting, there haven’t been many willing to admit it publicly. When they do, the story is generally of the I-quit-smoking-with-vapes-then-I-quit-vaping variety.
But Macron, who will face reelection next month, has apparently decided a little vaping won’t hurt his reputation—or his electoral chances. Indeed, the photo garnered more attention for Macron’s style than for the vape. The hoodie-casual look, critics say, is an attempt to borrow credibility from Volodymyr Zelensky, the ultra-popular Ukrainian President. (Zelensky, forced to live in a bunker while the Russian army attacks Ukraine’s capital Kyiv, seems to have a better excuse to go full grunge.)
One gossipy publication called Gala thought it important to note that Macron (who has been known to smoke occasionally) “seems to have found a substitute that is just as harmful to his health.” Gala also mentions that Macron’s right-wing election challenger Marine Le Pen quit smoking with e-cigarettes in 2013, and vapes regularly. Le Pen has been seen vaping publicly many times.
Philippe Poirson thinks Macron’s visible vape was a deliberate attempt to cultivate the support of French vapers, which Poirson numbers at 3-4 million. (France has the second-largest population in Western Europe, with almost 68 million residents.)
“The photo seems to act as an infra-promise, while maintaining the subject at an infra-political level,” writes Poirson. “However, if this detail appears and magazines like Gala insist on drawing attention to it three weeks before the elections, it is a sign of the electoral weight of the three to four million vapers and their relatives.”
Whether or not Poirson is correct about Macron’s motives, the photo could still have positive effects. Perhaps Macron will count the lack of outcry over the picture as a reason to expand his government’s vape-positive policy initiatives, or agree to take a stand for vaping in European Union TPD negotiations. Those may be long shots. But at the very least, some French smokers may see the picture and decide to try vaping for themselves.