France set to open floodgates to cheap fags

France set to open floodgates to cheap fags
A file photo of one of a Parisian 'tabac' or cigarette shop. Photo: Jose and Roxanne/Flickr
There may be good news ahead for smokers in France, as reports in the French press on Friday suggested the government is to lift a restriction on the amount of cigarettes that can be legally brought into the country from other EU states.

France looks set to remove limits on the number of cigarettes a person can bring into the country, according to France's Europe 1 radio on Friday meaning smokers in France will soon be able to stock up on cheap fags abroad to avoid the high cost of a packet back home.

French budget minister Jérôme Cahuzac, revealed the planned reform at a meeting of customs officers on Thursday the radio station claims.

At present, it is illegal to bring more than five cartons (50 packs) of cigarettes into France from other EU countries.

However, a European Court of Justice decision due in 10 days' time may force the French government to abandon these constraints, after the European Commission brought a complaint against Paris in 2010.

EU regulations, based on the 1992 Maastricht Treaty, are designed to protect the free circulation of goods and persons between EU member-states.

There has been angry reaction from French tobacco-sellers, who stand to lose out if smokers in France can bring an unlimited supply of cheaper cigarettes into the country.

President of the French confederation of tobacconists, Pascal Montedon told Europe 1 on Friday, “I'm very bitter about this. Europe has completely lost the plot.”

“On the one hand Europe wants to impose all sorts of restraints on us, like generic packaging, and on the other hand, they're leaving open the possibility that any consumer can go and buy their cigarettes in Eastern Europe, where they can be 15 times cheaper, and bring them back to France,” said Montedon.

His group is calling for a price freeze on cigarettes sold in France, until the cost of tobacco in neighbouring countries begins to increase.

The average price of a pack of 20 cigarettes in France is €6.60.

The French state coffers also stand to lose €3.5 billion per year in taxes and duties paid on cigarettes, if the five-carton limit is lifted, according to Europe 1.

At present, one out of every five cigarettes smoked in France originates abroad, with half of those coming from Spain, and a further 30 percent imported from the Benelux countries.

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