Will France's plain cigarette packs make smokers quit?

The Local France
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Will France's plain cigarette packs make smokers quit?
Photo: Thomas Samson/AFP

From Friday, all cigarette manufacturers in France will be obligated to create 'neutral' packaging for cigarettes as a controversial bill finally comes into force.


That means no eye-catching branding or bright logos, and all packages to be of a uniform size and colour. The brand name will still appear, but in a small, uniform font.

From January 1st 2017, French shops will only be able to sell the new neutral packets, with the rule applying to cigarette packs and cartons as well as to loose tobacco. Until then, you'll see a mixture of the old and new packaging on the shelves, giving shopkeepers time to get rid of their stock.

The neutral packages are part of a health reform bill which was initially voted in by MPs back in 2014 and included measures to tackle eating disorders, sun bed use and binge drinking as well as smoking. The measure narrowly made it through parliament in November 2015 after an amendment scrapping the neutral packaging clause from the health bill failed by just two votes.

Smoking is a factor in around 78,000 deaths in France each year - making it the leading cause of premature death in the country. Around a quarter of adults and a third of teenagers indulge in the habit, according to World Health Organization figures; the removal of colourful logos aims to make the habit less glamorous.

Touraine's goal is to cut the rate to one in five adults over a decade as France progressively ramps up legislation against the habit. Nine years ago, France controversially banned smoking in enclosed public spaces, including bars and restaurants, and the 2014 health bill extended these bans to e-cigarettes as well.

France's Minister of Health and Social Affairs, Marisol Touraine, announced on Wednesday that the government would launch a €32 million anti-smoking fund, including information campaigns to help smokers who are trying to kick the habit. Touraine pointed to statistics showing that six out of every ten smokers want to quit, and announced that November would be France's first 'no-tobacco month' in order to encourage and support smokers taking the first steps to going smoke-free.

However, the packaging restrictions have met with opposition both from conservative lawmakers and the tobacco manufacturers themselves. Several lawmakers complained the crackdown goes beyond European legislation while also defending the "social link" which they say tobacconists have with local communities.

Seita, the French subsidiary of Britain's Imperial Tobacco and the maker of the iconic Gauloises and Gitanes cigarettes appealed to France's top court against regulations imposing plain packaging, arguing that the law deprived business owners of their rights.

Seita's director for global corporate affiars Axel Gietz said: "Our rights to use our brands, several of which were created more than 100 years ago in France, should be respected."

However, their legal complaint will not delay the regulation from coming into force, so you can expect to see the first plain cigarette packages in a tobacconist near you very soon..

The first country to introduce legislation mandating neutral packaging was Australia, while similar laws are also set to come into force in the UK, Ireland and Norway.


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