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€25 a pack: Does raising prices actually stop people smoking?

Cigarette.
Cigarette. Copyright Canva.
Copyright Canva.
By Eleanor Butler
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France's Senate wants a 5% annual increase in cigarette prices until 2040, a proposal designed to discourage smokers.

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A Social Affairs Committee, part of France's Senate, has published a report on how taxation can guide the French population towards healthier lifestyles.

Released last week, one of the key focuses of the publication is smoking - a habit linked to more than 73,000 avoidable deaths in France per year.

In order to tackle this trend, the Committee suggested that the price of cigarettes should be raised by 5% annually until 2040.

If inflation is at 1.75%, this equates to a yearly hike of 3.25%.

Estimates suggest that the recommended tax increase could bring in around €14 billion per year for the French state.

Cigarette prices across the EU

If adopted, the Senate's proposal would mean that a packet of cigarettes now costing €12 would cost €25 in 2040 - a total more in line with costs seen in places like Australia and New Zealand.

The price of cigarettes is, however, already relatively high in France when compared with its European neighbours.

Citing the cheapest brand available, it cost around €8.95 to buy a pack of 20 cigarettes in France in 2020, according to the most recent data from the WHO.

When adjusted for purchasing parity in the EU, that price was only surpassed in Ireland.

If we include the UK, British and Northern Irish customers paid even more - with the cheapest pack of 12 costing around £9.30.

For premium cigarette brands, the ranking stayed largely the same. UK customers saw the highest prices, followed by Ireland and then France.

Bans on advertising and other campaigns

This new price hike could be the latest in a series of measures that the French government has introduced to tackle smoking.

In 2018, former health minister Agnès Buzyn announced a plan to gradually raise the price of a packet of cigarettes to €10.

Before this, France had brought in restrictions on smoking in public places and banned cigarette advertisements - notably thanks to the Veil Law of 1976 and the Evin Law of 1991.

According to the WHO, raising the price of cigarettes is "the single most effective and cost-effective measure for reducing tobacco use".

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Even so, the proportion of people who smoke in France has stabilised in recent years.

OECD figures suggest that the proportion of daily smokers dropped from 30% in 2000 to 25.5% in 2020.

This drop of 4.5% was lower than the change noted in other countries. The UK has recorded a reduction of 12.5%, while Germany and Spain have seen decreases of 9.1% and 12.3% respectively.

Some groups are also concerned about the effect of raising prices on the contraband trade of cigarettes.

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Last year, nearly 503 tonnes of illicit tobacco were seized by French border police as of 1 December, according to government figures.

Video editor • Ines Trindade Pereira

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