Why are the French smoking more?

Marketplace Staff Apr 7, 2010

Why are the French smoking more?

Marketplace Staff Apr 7, 2010


Bob Moon: Politicians in France are weighing a tough new law to require a free disposable ashtray be provided along with every pack of cigarettes sold.

It’s been two years now since France banned smoking in many public places. Despite that and steep taxes on cigarettes, though, the French are puffing not less, but more.

In fact, the number of smokers in France was up by 2.7 percent last year. Reporter John Laurenson has the story from a place that might be more appropriately nicknamed “the city of lighters.”

JOHN LAURENSON: Walk along the Boulevard Saint-Michel and most other streets in central Paris, and you’ll see every few dozen meters or so a group of often rather happily chatting people, shivering in the cold, smoking.

The price of cigarettes has doubled over the past few years. The public has been bombarded with anti-smoking propaganda and smoking is banned everywhere from nightclubs to offices to train stations. But many French people just don’t want to give up.

French women: And it’s relaxing to smoke with friends and to speak about what we just like failed at school. You have quite a good time when you’re with people and chatting and everything.

Many smokers say that some anti-smoking measures have actually given them more incentive to smoke. Such as giving employees the choice between sitting at their desk working and having a chat and a smoke outside with a couple of colleagues.

And though it’s difficult for non-smokers to work out how filling your lungs with poisonous smoke could be pleasurable, inside her shop with its distinctive glowing red cigar sign, this tobacconist says that that is how many of her customers feel.

SHOP OWNER: It’s one of the few pleasures left. That’s how many smokers feel. Especially the elderly ones. Others don’t want to stop smoking because it helps them enjoy themselves at parties or because it’s good to take a break from work from time to time. You know, these people just don’t want to stop. It’s as simple as that!

More worrying still for French health campaigners is that sales of nicotine substitutes — patches, chewing gums, inhalers and what-have-you — have slumped to their lowest level since 2001.

As this chemist Brigitte Muller confirmed.

BRIGITTE MULLER: There’s less interest in these substitutes and less desire to quit. People need something special to happen in their lives, such as the birth of a child or a health problem to get them motivated.

None of which augers well for the government’s new and upcoming attempt to get people to quit — shocking pictures of smoking-related disease on cigarette packets. Still puffing away on the pavement, this young smoker said that wouldn’t work either.

YOUNG SMOKER: At the beginning it might have had an effect, but now it’s just, we just got used to it. I think it will be the same with the images.

In Paris, I’m John Laurenson for Marketplace.

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