Anti-Smoking Measures in France Do Not Yield Desired Results


The iconic image of well-dressed and pensive French people enjoying cigarettes at sidewalk cafés is something that public health officials would like to eliminate, but reducing smoking habits in France is proving to be more difficult than previously envisioned.

According to a recent news article published by, studies by the French Observatory for Drugs and Addiction show that its latest efforts in curtailing smoking are falling short of expectations. The two latest measures enacted in this regard include a major tax imposed on sales of tobacco products as well as a change in packaging. When French smokers go to the corner store to ask for a pack of Gitanes these days, they no longer get the attractive box with the stylized flamenco dancer below the logo; instead, they get a plain package decorated with shocking pictures of dissected black lungs or even stillbirth fetuses.

The most recent set of studies on smoking reduction suggest that plain packaging of cigarettes has only caused a dent in tobacco purchases, which are down by less than one percent even as law enforcement agencies are reporting an increase in cigarette smuggling. It is estimated that 29 percent of the French population are habitual smokers, which makes them the most active smoking population in Europe.

The new rules on standard packaging and gristly photos were imposed in early 2017, and the current plans to increase taxes on sales of tobacco products call for a sticker price of 10 euros per pack by the year 2020.

What is interesting about smoking in France is that some scientists and medical researchers are perplexed at the cultural strength of this habit, which does not seem to create as many health issues as it does around the world. The French Paradox is the name given by scientists to this medical mystery; however, it should be noted that that national rates of smoking have fallen by as much as 60 percent since the 1960s.

In 2001, French smokers lit up 84 billion cigarettes; in 2017, that rate fell to 47 billion. These figures clearly indicate that public health efforts are working; however, the French government would like to see the national smoking rate fall below 28 percent, which would put France below the rest of European countries.

Some sociologists believe that the cultural image of beautiful French actresses such as Brigitte Bardot smoking on television commercials from the 1960s, an era of high prosperity in France, is more powerful than many people think.

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