French tobacco prices up again Monday
PARIS, Jan 5 (AFP) – France’s smokers on Monday endured the third increase in tobacco prices in a year, as the government pursued its campaign against a habit that kills some 66,000 people a year nationwide.
The price of a pack of cigarettes rose by eight to 10 percent to between EUR 4.5 and EUR 5 (USD 5.7 to USD 6.3), marking an average 40 percent increase in a year and making France one of Europe’s most expensive countries for smokers.
French President Jacques Chirac has made the fight against smoking and cancer one of his government’s top priorities, and Monday’s price hike came after similar tax increases on tobacco products in January and October 2003.
Health Minister Jean-Francois Mattei said last year that the price increases would generate EUR 800 million (USD 1 billion) in 2004 tax revenues – money needed to plug the massive deficit in the country’s ailing health insurance system, estimated at USD 10.6 billion in 2003.
On Saturday, the health ministry announced that smoking was the main cause of avoidable death in France, killing about 66,000 people a year, and that it causes a third of all cancer cases nationwide.
Around 42 percent of the French population, and more than half of 19-year-olds, are smokers.
Among European countries, France now ranks as one of the most expensive for smokers. By comparison, a packet of cigarettes costs EUR 2.5 in Spain, EUR 2.85 in Luxembourg and EUR 3.7 in Belgium.
Britain and Norway have the highest charges at more than EUR 7 a pack. In a bid to offset the price increase, cigarette makers have produced new packs of 19. Altadis will sell a pack of 19 Bastos for EUR 4.25, and British tobacco group Gallaher will launch a new brand in France at the same price.
But the country’s 34,000 licensed tobacconists are furious about what they say is an all-out assault on their profession. In October, they downed shutters in their first-ever nationwide strike to protest the price rises.
The government responded with an aid package of about EUR 150 million, but the tobacconists say it is not enough.
French tobacco sellers in border regions say their business is being ruined by the huge price difference, as there is nothing to stop smokers from stocking up in neighbouring countries.
The price increases have also led to an increase in robberies at smoke shops, cross-border smuggling, the sale of cigarettes on the black market and the illegal sale of cigarettes on the Internet.
More than EUR 6,000 worth of tobacco products was stolen at the weekend from a tobacconist’s shop in Champagne-sur-Seine east of Paris, police said Monday.
The main aim of the center-right French government’s anti-smoking campaign is to reduce the number of smokers by 30 percent among young people and 20 percent among adults in five years.
In July, France banned the sale of tobacco products to those under the age of 16. French law prohibits smoking in workplaces, airports, metro and rail stations and in some parts of restaurants, but the rule is widely ignored.
Subject: France news