France launches inquiry into electronic cigarettes

The French government has ordered an investigation into the possible risks of 'smoking' electronic cigarettes as more and more smokers turn to the devices in a bid to stub out their habit.

France launches inquiry into electronic cigarettes
File photo: Planetc1/flickr

After a wave of recent publicity around electronic cigarettes France’s Health Minister Marisol Touraine announced on Tuesday she had demanded an investigation be carried out into the nature and risks of the product.

Around half a million French people are estimated to use electronic cigarettes as a way of weening themselves of traditional tobacco filled fags.

French users “should exercise caution", the minister told France Info radio.

“I have asked my staff to tell me precisely what type of product this is. Is it simply a consumer product or is it part of a medical initiative? What are its characteristics,” she asked.

“We need to evaluate the benefits and the risks of these devices, which raise a number of issues,” Touraine added.

The device, which was first invented in China back in 2003 gives the user a similar sensation to smoking a cigarette.

The battery powered, pen-sized products contain liquid nicotine that is turned into a vapor which is then inhaled. Their obvious health benefit as opposed to smoking is that they don't contain tobacco and other harmful chemicals found in cigarettes.

People can freely use them in bars and restaurants, where traditional smoking is banned as well as at work.

According to estimates in French daily Le Parisien a smoker who consumes packer of traditional cigarettes a day will spend an average of €200, four times more than they would do if they switched to the electronic alternative.

The French minister is not the first in France to call for caution when it comes to electronic cigarettes, for which no official study has ever been carried out.

As far back as May 2011 the French health agency AFSSAPS advised against using the devices, saying they still contained nicotine, which even at a low concentration could lead to ‘damaging side effects’.

Professor Bertrand Dautzenberg, a Paris based pulmonologist told Europe1 radio, the device could have the opposite effect that is designed for.

“These electronic cigarettes could also lead children to start smoking,” he said, insisting they should be banned from children. “If the harm in the short term is clearly low, we have absolutely no idea that if they will help to rid people of their nicotine addiction," he added.

However "for the big smokers, I believe these will reduce the health risks", Dautzenberg told Le Parisien in a separate interview. The specialist insisted the best way to give up smoking was the patch "which releases nicotine gently and will reduce the addiction".

Is this the end of France's smoking culture?

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France brings in free contraception for all women aged 18-25

Free birth control for all women under 25 will be available in France from Saturday, expanding a scheme targeting under-18s to ensure young women don't stop taking contraception because they cannot afford it.

France brings in free contraception for all women aged 18-25
A doctor holds an interuterine contraceptive device (IUD) before inserting it in a patient. Photo: Adek Berry/AFP

The scheme, which could benefit three million women, covers the pill, IUDs, contraceptive patches and other methods composed of steroid hormones. Contraception for minors was already free in France.

Several European countries, including Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands and Norway, make contraception free for teens. Britain makes several forms of contraception free to all.

France announced the extension to women under 25 in September, saying surveys showed a decline in the use of contraception mainly for financial reasons.

The move is part of a series of measures taken by President Emmanuel Macron’s government to boost women’s rights and alleviate youth poverty. The free provision is supported by women’s groups including the association En Avant Tous.

“Between 18 and 25-years-old, women are very vulnerable because they lose a lot of rights compared to when they were minors and are very precarious economically,” spokeswoman Louise Delavier told AFP.

Leslie Fonquerne, an expert in gender issues, said there was more to be done.

“This measure in no way resolves the imbalance in the contraceptive burden between women and men,” the sociologist said.

In some developed countries, the free contraception won by women after decades of campaigning is coming under attack again from the religious right.

In the United States, former president Barack Obama’s signature health reform, known as Obamacare, gave most people with health insurance free access to birth control.

But his successor Donald Trump scrapped the measure, allowing employers to opt out of providing contraception coverage on religious grounds — a decision upheld by the Supreme Court in 2020.

Poland’s conservative government has also heavily restricted access to emergency contraception as part of its war on birth control.