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French tobacco retailers 'deeply shocked'

France 24, Jun 7

France is considering a move towards plain packaging for cigarettes and banning e-cigarettes in public places in what could be one of the world’s toughest anti-smoking policies.

Health Minister Marisol Touraine will present a law in June that would stop cigarette manufacturers from printing their distinctive logos on packages.

The newspaper said that plain packaging, with the cigarette brand written in small lettering under a graphic health warning, would be one of a number of measures to curb smoking, including a ban on using e-cigarettes, or “vaping”, in public places.

Australia pioneered plain packaging for cigarettes in 2012 and Britain, New Zealand and Ireland all plan similar bans.

The proposed legislation will be presented to French lawmakers in June.

France’s tobacco retailers, whose strictly regulated “Tabac” outlets are a feature of the French landscape, believe that the government has misunderstood the problem if it pushes ahead with this legislation.

“We are deeply shocked,” Pascal Montredon, who is head of France’s tobacco retailers’ union, told Le Figaro. “We all feel that the government doesn’t know what it’s doing. Australia has already introduced plain packaging, and the number of cigarettes sold has actually gone up.

“This measure will make the packets easier to copy and increase the number of counterfeit cigarettes,” he added. “As for banning electronic cigarettes in public places, why not? But the real problem is that sales are not regulated. We’ve asked the government to act on this and they’ve done nothing. Only regulated Tabacs should be able to sell these products.”

Smokers’ paradise

With its cafe culture and chain-smoking Nouvelle Vague movie stars, France earned a reputation as a smokers’ paradise after World War Two.

Iconic dark-tobacco brands like Gitanes, favoured by Gainsbourg, who smoked up to five packs a day, and Gauloises, preferred by philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre, grew hugely popular, in part thanks to their stylish packaging.

While the reputation sticks, smoking rates in France have since plummeted. Less than a third of the population now lights up regularly, which is about average for the European Union and down sharply from nearly 60 percent in the 1960s.

Tough anti-tobacco laws were introduced in 1991 which forced cigarette manufacturers to display health warnings on packets and forbade large-scale advertising on billboards and TV. Smoking in public places was banned in 2007.

Advocates of plain packaging argue that stripping packets of eye-catching logos is effective in reducing smoking among young people. Currently, one in three French people aged 15 to 19 is a smoker, according to the Health Ministry.

As French smoking rates have declined, so has the country’s once-vibrant tobacco industry. The state-owned Seita brand that produced Gauloises and Gitanes was bought by Britain’s Imperial Tobacco in 2008, and much of its production moved abroad.

In April, Imperial Tobacco announced the closure of the largest Gauloise cigarette factory in France, prompting the factory’s 327 workers to go on strike and hold five managers hostage on the worksite, near Nantes.  The managers were released after a day of captivity.

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