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Tobacconists’ carrot protest rattles French Senate

BFMtv/YouTube screengrab | Protesting tobacconists dumped four tonnes of carrots outside the Senate building in Paris

French tobacconists fighting a bill to introduce plain cigarette packaging scored a headline-grabbing victory Wednesday in a protest that included dumping four tonnes of carrots outside the French Senate, which appeared to backtrack on the bill.


Hundreds of tobacconists demonstrated outside the French Senate on Wednesday morning as it was debating a health bill that would force tobacco companies to do away with colourful and branded packaging.

The tobacconists, who man France’s licensed “Tabac” outlets with their iconic red signs (nicknamed “carrots”) began their protest by dumping four tonnes of carrots on the pavement outside the Senate building, a tactic borrowed from France’s farmers who have a habit of dumping agricultural produce in public places to draw attention to the low prices they get for their produce. .

The tobacconists used another method last weekend to protest against the bill, covering speed cameras in the country’s Midi-Pyrénées and Corrèze regions with plastic bags and stickers declaring: “Stop harassing the French!”

A spokesman for the angry cigarette sellers told France Bleu radio on Monday: “If the French state thinks it can do without taxes from cigarettes, they can do without earnings from speed cameras too.”

By the end of Wednesday the Senate’s social affairs committee, which was reviewing the text of the bill, had removed the clause in the health bill that would require cigarettes to be sold in plain packaging.

Instead, they argued for an increase in the size of public health warnings in line with EU legislation.

It’s by no means a clear-cut victory for France’s tobacconists, who say plain packaging will be easier to forge and that smokers will buy more illegally imported cigarettes with colourful packaging.

The bill will go back to France’s lower National Assembly, which has the final word in any dispute with the Senate over the text of a law, in September.

Several countries have already introduced plain packaging in a bid to reduce the number of young people taking up the habit.

Australia was the first to do so in 2012. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) plain packaging was responsible for a 2.9% fall in the number of cigarettes sold in 2014.

Ireland has followed suit and the UK plans to introduce the measure next year.

France has one of Europe’s highest under-age smoking rates. Around 26% of French 15-year-olds are regular smokers, according to the French National Committee against Smoking.

Health Minister Marisol Touraine, who said this week that "the generation that is born today should be a generation without tobacco", insists plain packaging will make cigarettes less attractive to young people.

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