French Smoking Image Tops Anti-Tobacco Incentives


Photo: Flickr/Ferran


By Corinne Ruff

Most days between classes Lea Giacomelli, like many young, French students, finds herself outside university doors rolling thin, brown cigarettes for a smoky conversation with friends. As they enjoy their few minutes of break, a lighter is passed around to spark the dangling cigarettes between their lips.

“If you don’t smoke, it’s awkward,” she said. “You’re wondering where to place your hands and constantly fiddling with things. So you usually just end up lighting a cigarette.

For Giacomelli, this French social routine quickly took her from a few cigarettes a week to a pack a day, since she began smoking at age 14. For French women her age, between 20-25, Giacomelli falls into the 46 percent of French women who smoke, an increase over the last five years.

Despite tobacco-related deaths being the leading cause of death in France, killing 200 people every day, the latest World Health Organization status report on tobacco control showed an increase in smokers, reaching 31 percent of the adult population last year. However, most smokers start much before adulthood.

“Smoking at 17 is taking the risk of dying before 60,” said Francois Hollande, president of France at a February press conference announcing his Cancer Plan for 2014-2019.

In his 1.5 million euro plan to reduce the consequences of smoking in France, Holland promised to increase national programs to reduce the number of users, taxes, quitting services and dissuasion tactics to keep young people from starting.

However, many young people doubt how effective Hollande’s plan will be in promoting an anti-smoking slogan on television and radio aimed at young people. Despite educational messages on cigarette cartons, bans on advertising and a public smoking ban, the strong cultural habit hasn’t gone anywhere.

Giacomelli says the image of a strong, confident smoker from movies and older role models is what continues to entice young people to start smoking. “In France there’s a corporal language linked to cigarettes,” she said. “It’s synonomous with confidence and sometimes power. It allows you interrupt your sentences, create suspense and pretend to be someone. It’s like a prop.”

For her and many other students, smoking began as a way to fit in socially, by participating in the distinctly French habit.

“Young people start smoking for style,” said Bilal Zidane-Djelassi, a master’s student at Sciences Po Paris. “They have this illusion that they have control of their consumption, but really they’re addicted.”

In an attempt to dissuade students on an economical level, taxes rose in January by 20 cents on cigarettes and 50 cents on rolling tobacco, pushing the average cost of a pack of cigarettes up to 7 euros. While price hikes haven’t diminished the number of smokers, they have encouraged some to make the switch to e-cigarettes.

After reaching a pack a day, Zidane-Djelassi said he began to feel both the health and cost effects of the habit. When his budget could no longer support the 200-euro habit each month, he switched to smoking e-cigarettes.

“People have the feeling that smoking an e-cigarette is not really smoking,” he said. “It’s like drinking beer without alcohol.”

While the new method of vapor smoking has caught on with nearly half a million users in France, it still presents the same health concerns to medical professionals and lawmakers.

Over the next five years, smokers may be looking at a dramatic increase to 11.27 euros if legislation for a 10 percent increase passes in the senate.

Despite previous price hikes over the years, one in every two people between the ages of 18-34 continues to keep up the habit.

“I don’t really care to quit,” said Giacomelli. “I only ever feel concerned with the consequences when I try to run after my bus but can’t. Otherwise it doesn’t really affect me.”


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