The French government has proposed a much stricter plan to stop smoking habits that would also introduce plain packaging for cigarettes henceforth, along with banning smoking on playgrounds and also making it nearly impossible to use even electronic cigarettes in specific public places of France.
The measures aim to cut smoking by 10 percent over the next five years in France, which has one of Europes highest smoking rates, especially among young people. Previous efforts by the French government to reduce tobacco consumption have stalled in recent years.
Under the governments packaging plan, all cigarette packs in France would have the same shape, size, color and typography. They would also carry health warnings. The brands logo would be small, with a fixed size and positioning on the package.
Australia is the only country so far to have adopted completely neutral packaging. Since 2012, cigarette packs there are dark olive-brown and logo-free, with graphic depictions of smokings negative health consequences.
Tobacconists and cigarette producers in France reacted angrily on Thursday to the governments plain-packaging plan, which they said would do nothing to discourage young smokers and would instead favor the contraband market.
But the health minister, Marisol Touraine, who presented the proposals after a cabinet meeting on Thursday, said steps were needed to reduce the 73,000 smoking-related deaths every year in France.
I have chosen my side, that of public health, she said. This is an important moment in the fight against tobacco.
The French proposals would be more restrictive than the tobacco rules that the European Parliament passed last fall. Those rules took a lenient approach to e-cigarettes, other than banning their sale to anyone younger than 18 and leaving it up to individual countries to set limits on where they could be used.
The European rules stopped short of requiring plain packaging for cigarettes, although they require cigarette packs to carry health warnings in pictures and text covering 65 percent of the packages, up from 40 percent previously.
The battle is an uphill one for France, where nearly a third of adults are regular smokers. From 2005 to 2010, the proportion of adult smokers increased to 30 percent, up from 28 percent, according to the French Monitoring Center for Drugs and Drug Addiction, an organization that provides information on the use of addictive substances in France.
That rise has come despite frequent price increases. A pack of cigarettes costs around 7 euros, or about $9.
The French plan contains a dozen measures in all, including a ban on smoking in a car in the presence of children younger than 12 years old and a ban on smoking in playgrounds. Using e-cigarettes, known as vaping, would be banned in schools, on public transportation and in closed workplaces.
Most of the measures will be brought before the French Parliament in a wide-ranging health bill this autumn. The governing Socialist Party has the most seats in the lower house of Parliament, which has the final say in the legislative process. But it is a slim majority, making the outcome hard to predict.
The plain-packaging measure has caused the biggest stir and provoked the anger of cigarette producers and sellers.
We are crestfallen, said Pascal Montredon, president of the French tobacconists confederation. They arent attacking the problem of smoking; they are attacking a network of 27,000 small businesses.
Mr. Montredon said that plain packaging would not reduce the number of young smokers and would only push them onto the black market, where cigarettes are cheaper. When all the packages are identical, its much easier for criminal networks to copy fake cigarette packs, he said.
The government argues that plain packaging makes cigarettes less alluring for French teenagers, who have one of Europes highest smoking rates. According to the Monitoring Center for Drugs and Drug Addiction, a little over a third of French 17-year-olds were regular smokers in 2011.
The first cigarettes arent enjoyable, they dont taste good; the reason you smoke them is because there is social pressure from friends, and because there is massive pressure from brands, said Bertrand Dautzenberg, a pulmonologist and the president of an anti-smoking association, who supports the governments plan. Young people want shoes of a specific brand, pants of a specific brand, bags of a specific brand, and cigarettes of a specific brand, he said.
Tobacco companies say plain packaging will not deter young smokers. They say the French government should not offer the Australian legislation as an example, even though there are signs that it might be effective.
We are not an island like Australia, said Eric Sensi, corporate affairs director for Seita, a French subsidiary of Imperial Tobacco, arguing that France is more exposed to cross-border smuggling.
“Cigarette producers were particularly alarmed by the plain-packaging plan because they believe it violates their intellectual property rights. It is an attack on our brands, which leads to a very big risk for the French government to have to compensate us, Mr. Sensi said. I dont think that sends out a very good image of France for foreign investors. Australia is currently a respondent in several World Trade Organization disputes over its plain-packaging legislation,” said Mr. Sensi.
The volume of cigarette sales in France this August has been nearly 8.6 percent which is lower than last year, as per the monitoring center. However, the impact of anti smoking measures on the evident decrease is ambiguous, particularly after the evolution of e-cigarettes.
A research conducted last year (2013) by the monitoring center realized that there were 1.1 million to 1.9 million people who consume e-cigarette everyday in France.