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Why the tabac is essential to life in France - even if you don't smoke

The Local France
The Local France - [email protected]
Why the tabac is essential to life in France - even if you don't smoke
Customers arrive at a 'tabac' in France (Photo by RAYMOND ROIG / AFP)

A cornerstone of the French culture, the tabac has long been a place for more than just cigarette shopping. Paying bills and fines - and soon even purchasing ammunitions and paying tollbooth fees - are just some of the services that tobacconists offer.


France's tabac (tobacco shops) have long been a place for more than just purchasing cigarettes. Their iconic red sign, found in any French city, town and village, is associated with a place for locals to socialise over a beer or a coffee, or watch the horse racing and have a bet.

With some 23,300 shops across France, 41 percent of which are located in towns with fewer than 3,500 inhabitants, tabacs are an important part of French life, even for those who do not smoke.

"We are aware that we will sell less and less tobacco in the future. This... goes hand in hand with our change of identity,” said Gérard Vidal, President of a tobacconists federation in the Occitanie region of southern France.

The French government therefore added new services to the list of errands that can be run in a tabac, most recently including ammunition sales.

“More than a tobacco shop, tobacconists have become local utility traders," Vidal told French daily La Dépêche.

So what exactly can you do in a tabac in France? 


Buy ammunition

Starting in 2024, tabac shop owners will be able to obtain certification that would allow them to sell certain types of ammunition. This would help hunters, who often have to travel long distances, have easier access to supplies.

In order to be qualified, tobacconists will have to pass a two-day training course, according to France's interior ministry. They will only be able to sell 'category C ammunition' (mainly used for hunting) and 'category D ammunition' (the least dangerous grouping, available to adults - this includes items like air rifles). 

Once they obtain a licence after taking the course, participating tabacs must also receive authorisation from the préfet after consultation with the local mayor. For the purchase of category C ammunition, the customer must show ID, proof of either a hunting or shooting licence, as well as a declaration of their firearm from the SIA.

READ MORE: EXPLAINED: How gun control laws work in France

Pay your bills

Since 2020, you can pay bills for school fees, cafeteria fees, crèche (nursery) or even the hospital.

This is however only possible IF the bill has a QR code AND says that it is payable auprès d'un buraliste (can be paid to a tobacconist).

If the bill ticks both boxes, you may pay it at the tobacconist whatever the amount if you pay by card. If you pay cash the limit is €300.

Before going you should however verify that your tobacconist offers the paiement de proximité service.

You may find your nearest tobacconist providing these services here (select your département and your commune and you get a list of the different tabacs and a map showing where they are situated).

Some French people like to visit their local tabac to have a beer and watch the TV. Photo: AFP

Later in 2024, certain tabacs registered with the Nirio payment system will allow people to pay free-flow tollbooth bills. More information here.

Pay your taxes

As with bills, this new addition was added in 2020, provided the tabac offer these services and the taxes you are paying are of an amount less than €300.

The taxes included in the system are:

  • taxe d'habitation or taxe foncière (property taxes)
  • income taxes with a QR code on the bill


Pay your fines

As with your bills and taxes, you can also pay fines in a tabac. Again, this is provided that the fine has a QR code and says that it is payable auprès d'un buraliste (can be paid to a tobacconist). It also requires that the tobacconist in question features on the list providing these services (see above).

Buy train tickets

In 2019 the national rail company SNCF made it possible to buy train tickets for the high speed TGV trains and regional TER trains in a tabac.

Buy stamps

For non-smokers, buying stamps is one of the most common reasons to frequent into a tabac. Ask for un timbre, s'il vous plaît (one stamp, please) and stick it on your letter or postcard. If you want a pack of stamps the thing to ask for is un carnet de timbres, s'il vous plaît.


Place a bet

If you like to gamble, the tabac is the place to go. Whether it is to bet on the next horse race via the PMU or get a lotto ticket, you will find it here.

Get postcards

Many tabac sell postcards (and sometimes the cards are nicer than the ones sold in supermarkets and cheaper than those in tourist shops). 


Buy more phone credit

If you need to top off your phone minutes you can pop by your nearest tabac to see if they sell phone credit (they usually do).

Make photocopies

A tabac is also a place to make photocopies - if they have one - and the price is usually just a few cents a page.

Get a souvenir

Some tobacconists sell local products and souvenirs, so if you're on a trip in rural France and looking for something to bring back home, you could pop by the local tabac to see if they have anything interesting.


Finally, if you're feeling like a snack, tobacconists sell candy bars - the carambar toffees are a classic here in France - and sometimes even patisséries like croissants and pain aux chocolats

Have a beer or a coffee

Not strictly part of the tabac service, but in many small towns there is a combined tabac/café/bar in the same building, so once you have conducted your business you can sit down and order a drink. 


Comments (2)

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Anonymous 2020/11/01 15:07
Who are you trying to kid? The TABAC is dead. <br />Everything you mentioned had been replaced by an app. <br />But the French still smoke more than any country in the world!<br />
  • Anonymous 2021/11/15 16:10
    Actually France at 34.6% is almost exactly in the middle of the 2021 world average of 33.3. Greece, Latvia and Bulgaria are at 38-39 %. Hungary, Austria, Sweden, Germany, Spain, Portugal are at 28-29%. Switzerland, US and Belgium at 25%. Italy, Netherlands and Ireland at 23%. Canada, Denmark and UK 18-19%. It's still too high of course. As of 2018, 36% of french males and 33% of french females were smokers. Cost and social acceptance are the keys to reduction rates.
Anonymous 2020/07/30 10:19
The French Government has recently done its bit by severely reducing the amount of ciggies in Spain. It can be considered another unfriendly gesture to Spain.

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