The government has been taking steps in recent years to try to persuade French smokers to stub out their habit, but new figures reveal they have not been very persuasive.
Even the controversial combination of plain packaging — with its accompanying shocking photos — and steadily rising prices has failed to dissuade them from lighting up.
Launched in January 2017, it was hoped that plain packaging would decrease the number of French smokers but new figures show that 29 percent of them are still lighting up – a figure that has remained stable in recent years.
During the year of its launch, cigarette sales fell by a negligible 0.7 percent, according to figures from the French Observatory for Drugs and Addiction (OFDT).
Lung doctor, Bertrand Dautzenberg who had been a staunch defender of the plain packaging reform, admitted that it had not affected sales in an interview with Le Parisien last May, adding that he believed the cost of the habit would need to go up to 10 euros a packet for there to be a drop in the number of smokers.
The French government has promised to increase the price of a packet of cigarettes to 10 euros by 2020.
In France, the tobacco industry sets the sale price of cigarettes but the state encourages these increases by changing the taxes on them which represent more than 80 percent of the price paid by the consumer.
Tobacco provides the state with about 14 billion euros a year.
But French health authorities at the time dismissed the significance of the figures.
“The neutral packet is aimed at changing tobacco's image and is principally aimed at younger people. Its impact on consumption will only become apparent in the medium or long term future,” said a statement from the Health Ministry's General Directorate of Health (DGS).
“Most current tobacco consumers are already dependent and the change in packaging alone will not encourage them to stop smoking, even if it can contribute to this,” it added.
When neutral, brand-less packaging was introduced in January 2017 it cost the French state around €100 million to reimburse tobacco businesses for the loss of 15 million branded cigarettes that they were no longer able to sell.
Smoking is a factor in around 78,000 deaths in France each year – making it the leading cause of premature death in the country.