France plans to mandate plain packaging of cigarettes as part of an effort to reduce one of the highest rates of smoking among major European countries.
Plain packaging will be enforced as part of a law to be presented in coming months, Health Minister Marisol Touraine said Thursday at a Cabinet meeting. The ministry doesn’t have a timetable yet for putting the plan into effect.
France is joining Britain and Ireland in moving toward banning distinctive and alluring tobacco packaging. With 31 percent of adults smoking daily, France has the third-highest rate of smoking in Western Europe behind Greece and Austria, according to the World Health Organization. That compares with 14 percent in Britain and 24 percent in Germany, the WHO says.
“There is no miracle cure for tobacco addiction,” Touraine said Thursday. “Neutral packaging is one measure among others to efficiently fight the industry’s marketing.”
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The law will allow for the cigarette brand names to be stated on the packages with standardized ‘neutral” lettering. Touraine aims to cut the number of smokers in France by 10 percent by 2019 and for the country to have less than 20 percent of adults smoking by 2024.
The British health ministry said in April branded cigarettes could be banned as soon as next year.
Forcing companies to sell cigarettes in plain packs could undermine profits by making it hard to raise prices at a time when global tobacco consumption is falling, according to Moody’s Investors Service and Fitch Ratings.
Imperial Tobacco, the maker of Gauloises Blondes and Davidoff cigarettes, says the packaging ban won’t work and is considering legal action.
“The plain-packaging debate rumbles on in a small number of countries including France, but the case remains that there is no credible evidence to support its introduction anywhere,” Imperial said in an emailed statement. “It makes no sense for the French government to rush in.”
Policymakers, tobacco executives and analysts are looking to Australia, where standardized packaging was introduced in December 2012. After a year and a half of plain packaging there, both sides of the argument claim victory.
The tobacco firms say the introduction has led to an increase in illicit tobacco sales. Anti-smoking group ASH says Australian government figures showing a drop in adult smoking rates are a direct result of plain packaging.
British American Tobacco picked up those arguments Thursday.
“It is baffling that without any form of consultation with businesses or the public, a French Health Minister would propose a policy which breaches several European Union laws,” BAT said in a statement. “Not only would plain packaging not help achieve any health benefit but it would reduce much needed tax revenue for the French Government as more French smokers turn to the black market for branded packs or travel to buy tobacco at border shops.”