France mulls plain packs to stub out high smoking rates
France was Thursday to unveil a controversial new plan to bring down high youth smoking rates likely to include plain packaging, following its successful introduction in Australia.
Health Minister Marisol Touraine will present an action plan aimed especially at younger smokers, as France has one of the highest rates of under-16s smoking in Europe.
European Union laws already force tobacco firms to cover 65 percent of the packaging with health warnings.
But France wants to go further and follow Australia's example by stripping away all branding and advertising at the point of sale, to the fury of the tobacco companies.
Celine Audibert, spokeswoman for French firm Seita, which is a subsidiary of Imperial Tobacco, slammed the move as "completely incomprehensible".
"It's based on the Australian experience which, more than a failure, was a complete fiasco," added Audibert.
In 2012, Australia forced all cigarettes to be sold in identical, olive-brown packets bearing the same typeface and largely covered with graphic health warnings.
Experts say it has helped curb consumption, although tobacco companies dispute this.
It also raised taxes, pushing prices up and consumption down. Tobacco clearances, an indicator of tobacco volumes in the Australian market, fell 3.4 percent in 2013 relative to 2012.
Touraine said in May that she was looking at "a whole series of options, including plain packaging, but not just that option."
French business daily Les Echos reported that another measure could be the banning of the very popular electronic cigarettes "in certain public places but not all".
E-cigarettes have exploded in France, with statistics published by the French Observatory for Drugs and Addiction (OFDT) estimating that 18 percent of French people between the age of 15 and 75 had tried them.
Smoking is the main cause of death in France, with 73,000 people dying each year of tobacco-related illnesses.
Approximately 13 million people smoke in France every day, out of a total population of around 66 million.
© 2014 AFP