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French tobacconists fume over plain cigarette packaging bill

Thomas Samson, AFP | A tobacconist in Paris reaches out for a pack of cigarettes on March 4, 2015

Tobacconists in the south of France covered speed cameras with black plastic rubbish bags over the weekend in protest at a new bill that aims to reduce tobacco use by requiring that cigarettes be sold in plain, uniform packs.


Tobacconists covered a number of speed cameras in the country’s Midi-Pyrénées and Corrèze regions overnight on Sunday in protest at the bill.

“By attacking speed cameras, we want to have an impact on the state’s tax revenues,” Frédéric Vergnes, president of Corrèze’s tobacconist union, told AFP.

The tobacconists’ actions came shortly before representatives from 10 countries – including New Zealand, Australia, Hungary, Ireland, Britain, Norway, Sweden, South Africa and Uruguay – gathered in Paris on Monday to attend a conference hosted by French Health Minister Marisol Touraine on combating tobacco consumption.

Similar protest measures were taken overnight Saturday in Bordeaux, where tobacconists targeted cameras along the city’s ring road with plastic bags bearing signs that read “Getting rid of my tobacconists will not reduce smoking. No to plain packaging, no to €10 packs”, Joaquim Rompante, president of the Gironde region’s tobacconist union, told Reuters.

The top of the statue in Bordeaux’s famed Girondins fountain was also covered with a plastic bag, while protest signs were posted at the Socialist Party’s local offices.

“Plain packaging will be the death of tobacconists,” Rompante said. “There are 26,000 [tobacconists] in France, who employ 100,000 people. It will create unemployment!”

Tobacconists have been protesting for weeks against the bill, which was approved by the National Assembly on April 3. The proposed law aims to reduce smoking by 10 percent in the next five years by requiring that all cigarettes be sold in the same plain, brand-less packs, among other measures.

The bill will go before the Senate on Wednesday, where lawmakers will vote on whether to approve it. If passed, the legislation will come into effect in May 2016.

Rompante said that the country’s tobacconists were already planning to stage a protest outside the Senate on Wednesday.

“We’ve been nice up until now. If we have to do like the taxi drivers… we will,” he said, referring to last month’s angry cab strike against Uber’s low-cost car service UberPOP.

Australia was the first country in the world to impose plain packaging laws in 2012. Since then, tobacco consumption has significantly decreased in the country, falling by 3.4 percent in 2013.

Tobacco is the leading cause of preventable death in France, with an estimated 73,000 people dying each year from tobacco-related illnesses.


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