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HEALTH

EXPLAINED: Why does France have so many pharmacies?

One of the first things newcomers notice about France is the preponderance of pharmacies - instantly recognisable by their illuminated green cross signs - in every town, city and even some villages.

EXPLAINED: Why does France have so many pharmacies?
Over-the-counter medicines in pharmacies. Photo: Guillaume Sauvant/AFP

They are one of the things that make the French high street distinctive – the regular illuminated green cross of the pharmacy which helpfully also displays the time, date and temperature, but how does the economy sustain so many of these businesses?

How many?

Although pharmacies are lot more prevalent in France than many other countries, the French are not the European leaders in this field.

The most recent data on pharmacies shows around 21,000 in mainland France.

But an EU comparison from 2017 shows that France had 33 pharmacies per 100,000 people, a respectable number but not far ahead of the EU average of 29 and miles behind front-runner Greece, which has an astonishing 88 pharmacies for every 100,000 people.

Graphic: OECD

In fact France has fewer pharmacies per head of the population than Greece, Spain, Belgium, Latvia, Estonia, Slovakia, Ireland and Poland. It is however well above the UK (which at the time of the data was still part of the EU) on 21 on Denmark which has just 7 pharmacies for every 100,000 people, which could make for quite long queues.

The places in France with the highest density of pharmacies are Paris and the départements of central France – although that probably relates more to central France’s low population density than an abundance of pharmacies. One third of pharmacies are in places with fewer than 5,000 inhabitants.

Overall the number of pharmacies in France is falling, from 22,514 in 2007 to 21,192 in 2017.

But is there enough business for them all?

Monopoly

One of the main reasons for the popularity of the pharmacy is that they are the only place you can buy certain things, thanks to restrictive French rules on over-the-counter medicines.

While in many countries you can buy headache tablets or paracetamol in a number of places including supermarkets, corner shops and service stations, in France drugs like Ibuprofen can only be bought at a pharmacy.

This is also true for things like cough medicine and cold remedies, so if you have a minor illness you need to head to the pharmacy.

There are also restrictions on ownership which mean that pharmacy chains are not allowed, although parapharmacies – which only offer non-prescription medicines – are often part of a chain.

Hypochondria

As well as selling over-the-counter products, pharmacists also dispense medication prescribed by doctors and here French doctors and their patients keep them busy – a study in 2019 showed that 90 percent of doctors’ appointments result in a prescription and the average prescription is for three or more items.

READ ALSO Why are the French so keen on taking medicine?

The French are among the most medicated populations in Europe and a generous healthcare system means that most prescriptions are reimbursed, so patients are unlikely to hesitate before filling a prescription that their doctors give them.

Pharmacies in France usually also sell a wide variety of homeopathic remedies which are extremely popular, although from 2020 the government has stopped funding these.

Pharmacies have been a key part of Covid testing in France. Photo Guillaume Guay/AFP

Medical access

Another reason that French people love their pharmacies is that they are really useful. Every pharmacy or parapharmacy has at least one trained pharmacist on the premises who as well as dispensing medicines can give medical advice on a range of ailments.

They are particularly useful in the growing number of ‘medical deserts’ where there are not enough doctors for the local population and also open in the evenings and at weekends. Pharmacies in small towns or city neighbourhoods often have a rota so that at least one is open on a Sunday.

They also offer a number of extremely useful services such as dispensing the winter flu vaccine and – from March 15th – the Covid vaccine, while if you have been mushroom picking, you can take your haul to the local pharmacy to check that you haven’t picked anything poisonous. 

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LIVING IN FRANCE

What changes in France in July 2022

Summer's here and the time is right for national celebrations, traffic jams, strikes, Paris beaches, and ... changing the rules for new boilers.

What changes in France in July 2022

Summer holidays

The holiday season in France officially begins on Thursday, July 7th, as this is the date when school’s out for the summer. The weekend immediately after the end of the school year is expected to be a busy one on the roads and the railways as families start heading off on vacation.

READ ALSO 8 things to know about driving in France this summer

Strikes

But it wouldn’t really be summer in France without a few strikes – airport employees at Paris’ Charles de Gaulle and Orly airports will walk out on July 1st, while SNCF rail staff will strike on July 6th. Meanwhile Ryanair employees at Paris, Marseille and Toulouse airports will strike on yet-to-be-confirmed dates in July.

READ ALSO How strikes and staff shortages will affect summer in France

Parliamentary fireworks?

Prime minister Elisabeth Borne will present the government’s new programme in parliament on July 5th – this is expected to be a tricky day for the Macron government, not only does it not have the parliamentary majority that it needs to pass legislation like the new package of financial aid to help householders deal with the cost-of-living crisis, but opposition parties have indicated that they will table a motion of no confidence against Borne.

Parliament usually breaks for the summer at the end of July, but a special extended session to allow legislation to be passed means that MPs won’t get to go on holiday until at least August 9th. 

Fête nationale

July 14th is a public holiday in France, commemorating the storming of the Bastille which was the symbolic start of the French Revolution. As usual, towns and cities will host parades and fireworks – with the biggest military parade taking place on the Champs-Elysées in Paris – and many stores will remain closed.

As the national holiday falls on a Thursday this year, many French workers will take the opportunity to faire le pont.

Festival season really kicks in

You know summer’s here when France gets festival fever, with events in towns and cities across the country. You can find our pick of the summer celebrations here.

Paris Plages

The capital’s popular urban beaches return on July 9th on the banks of the Seine and beside the Bassin de la Villette in northern Paris, bringing taste of the seaside to the capital with swimming spots, desk chairs, beach games and entertainment.  

Summer sales end 

Summer sales across most of the country end on July 19th – unless you live in Alpes-Maritimes, when they run from July 6th to August 2nd, or the island of Corsica (July 13th to August 9th).

Tour de France

The Tour de France cycle race sets off on July 1st from Copenhagen and finishes up on the Champs-Elysée in Paris on July 24th.

New boilers

From July 1st, 2022, new equipment installed for heating or hot water in residential or professional buildings, must comply with a greenhouse gas emissions ceiling of 300 gCO2eq/KWh PCI. 

That’s a technical way of saying oil or coal-fired boilers can no longer be installed. Nor can any other type of boiler that exceeds the ceiling.

As per a decree published in the Journal Officiel in January, existing appliances can continue to be used, maintained and repaired, but financial aid of up to €11,000 is planned to encourage their replacement. 

Bike helmets

New standards for motorbike helmets come into effect from July 1st. Riders do not need to change their current helmets, but the “ECE 22.05” standard can no longer be issued – and all helmets sold must adhere to a new, more stringent “ECE 22.06” standards from July 2024

New cars

From July 6th new car models must be equipped with a black box that record driving parameters such as speed, acceleration or braking phases, wearing (or not) of a seat belt, indicator use, the force of the collision or engine speed, in case of accidents.

New cars II

From July 1st, the ecological bonus for anyone who buys an electric vehicle drops by €1,000, while rechargeable hybrids will be excluded from the aid system, “which will be reserved for electric vehicles whose CO2 emission rate is less than or equal to 20g/km”.

What’s in a name?

Historically, the French have been quite restrictive on the use of family names – remember the concern over the use of birth names on Covid vaccine documents? – but it becomes easier for an adult to choose to bear the name of his mother, his father, or both by a simple declaration to the civil status. All you have to do is declare your choice by form at the town hall of your home or place of birth.

Eco loans

In concert with the new boiler rules, a zero-interest loan of up to €30,000 to finance energy-saving renovations can be combined with MaPrimeRénov’, a subsidy for financing the same work, under certain conditions, from July 1st.

Rent rules

Non-professional private landlords advertising properties for rent must, from July 1st, include specific information about the property on the ad, including the size of the property in square metres, the area of town in which the property is in, the monthly rent and any supplements, whether the property is in a rent-control area, and the security deposit required. Further information, including the full list of requirements for any ad, is available here.

Perfume ban

More perfumes are to be added to a banned list for products used by children, such as soap-making kits, cosmetic sets, shampoos, or sweet-making games, or toys that have an aroma.

Atranol, chloroatranol (extracts of oak moss containing tannins), and methyl carbonate heptin, which smells like violets, will be banned from July 5th, because of their possible allergenic effects.

Furthermore, 71 new allergenic fragrances – including camphor, menthol, vanilin, eucalyptus spp. leaf oil, rose flower oil, lavendula officinalis, turpentine – will be added to the list of ingredients that must be clearly indicated on a toy or on an attached label.

Ticket resto limits

The increased ticket resto limit ended on June 30th, so from July 1st employees who receive the restaurant vouchers will once again be limited to spending €19 per day in restaurants, cafés and bars. The limit was increased to €38 during the pandemic, when workers were working from home.

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