France tackles smoking laws

(Transcript from SBS World News Radio)

France may be on the verge of introducing tough anti-tobacco measures similar to Australia’s.


It would be a bold move for a country where the cigarette means almost as much to the country’s café culture as the croissant.

Ryan Emery reports.

(Click on the audio tab above to hear the full report)

Among the many sights, sounds and smells of Paris, cigarettes and cigarette smoke have always featured.

According to government figures, thirty per cent of the French smoke and even though it’s banned in public places, it’s allowed in outdoor seating.

Reporter: “Why do you think so many French people smoke?”

Smoker: “Because they are really stressed. French people are really stressed because of the economic recession.”

Reporter: “But cigarettes are expensive.

Smoker: “People prefer to invest in cigarettes than other stuff.”

French media reports suggest the French government will follow Australia’s lead and introduce plain packaging as part of a new health bill that will be introduced to president Francois Hollande by his Health Minister this week.

But the French government says it’s still considering its options including increasing the tobacco price again, banning smoking in outdoor seating, and plain packaging.

Addiction specialist Jacques Le Houezec says the French are ready to stop smoking.

“The social climate has changed. And many smokers want to quit like everywhere. We have exactly the same statistics about this, but tobacco dependence is a very strong dependence.”

In France, lung cancer accounts for thirty per cent of cancer deaths.

French President Francois Hollande introduced a two billion-dollar anti-cancer treatment package in February, which includes anti-tobacco measures.

Jacques Le Houezec says French women on average start smoking later in life compared to other western countries.

“We’re now seeing many more women, for example, in France smoking. And lung cancer is now approaching the same prevalence as breast cancer. So it’s quite a big problem and we really need to tackle it.”

But the French love affair with the cigarette is proving difficult to break up, so many people are instead turning to electronic cigarettes.

The devices heat a flavoured liquid that contains nicotine, which is inhaled as a vapour by the user.

The nicotine is delivered in a similar fashion to cigarettes giving them something to hold and a warm feeling in the back of their throat like smoke.

Aurelie works in the Alter Smoke store off the Champs Elysees in Paris.

“French people quit smoking regular cigarettes thanks to electronic cigarettes. Using electronic cigarettes is a good way to quit smoking altogether.”

But French Health Minister Marisol Touraine could ban their use in public.

She’s concerned they’ll normalise smoking for children and young people.

Jacques Le Houezec says e-cigarettes, though not thoroughly studied, do work.

“All these ingredients are usually considered as safe. We don’t know in the long term what will be on the lungs for example, but it’s so little compared to the danger of smoking that nobody should think about this right now.”

But they’re not for everyone.

“I don’t know. I’ve tried it and I don’t like it. It’s not like the real cigarette.”

So the battle with tobacco goes on – and the French will soon learn how far their government is willing to go to win the war.