No cigarettes for the under sixteens?

Should we prohibit young people under 16 from buying cigarettes?

In any case it is the subject of a proposed bill to be read in the Senate. The prohibition of tobacco sales to youth is recommended by the World Health Organization [1]. Similar legislation already exists in many western countries, notable in the United States, in the United Kingdom and in Sweden, but also in the Latin countries such as Spain and Italy, where you would have expect perhaps a more liberal approach.

France has always resisted until now the temptation to prohibit. The last government always sent back proposals in this directions and the new proposed bill has attracted lively opposition. The socialist senator Gilbert Chabroux is one of the opponents most heard. He explains why to La Guinguette:

It is in fact a proposed bill which asks that the sale of tobacco be prohibited to those under the age of 16. That is the core of the bill. The other measures envisaged in the bill are quite secondary, so the objective is to prohibit sale to those under 16 considering that tobacco use is a scourge, that we do not deny, and considering that we must fight more especially against tobacco use by the young and the more and more dangerous addition of the young to tobacco.

So, the young form a category which is targeted. There is nothing in the bill concerning the other categories of smokers, the adults. So there are the young whom you must constrain and by this prohibition, prohibition of sale, prohibition of even giving cigarettes to a young person under 16.

My position is that we must fight effectively against the use of tobacco; it is true that it is a scourge, that there are a lot of deaths. Well, it is an important risk factor, risk of cancer. One smoker in ten dies from his tobacco habit. We cannot deny this reality, but the position which I defend, personally, is that you must put prevention actions in place, information, education, and respect for the Evin law [2] which protects non smokers from the smoke of others. It is quite a collection of things. We could also put up the price of tobacco, it is an important factor. In the end there is quite a collection of measures which ought to be taken take on tobacco dependence as a whole. I vigorously contest the fact that we can take on one category of smokers without intervention with the others. It seems to me that that is useless, ineffective. I cannot really see how we can apply this ban with the young under 16 whilst from 16 they can smoke as much as they like, right, so there cannot be a border line. We cannot consider that it is the age of 16 which changes everything, you see.

It seems to me that in countries elsewhere there this arrangement has been applied, the results are far from those which were expected. There are not the effects of the reduction of consumption which there were hoping for. It is very easy to get round such a prohibition, very easy, right. I think even that prohibition can have the effect of inciting use. There is a sort of challenge to take up.

In effect I asked that this bill be put on hold. I indicated what I was looking for as regards the fight against tobacco. But personally that doesn’t go as far as prohibition. I have quite a number of proposals, in particular with the increase in the price of tobacco. It seems to me that this is an interesting factor, important, right, provided that the taxes provide for a part for the WHO, say 1% for prevention measures that we do not do. So, I am for different measures. The increase in the price of tobacco in stages of at least 10 to 15%, I think, each year. They must not go up by 3% that means nothing, but 10% to 15% each year, well? So there was an increase of 15% in last January but the manufacturers almost paid it, or in part paid it by reducing their margin, that cannot work properly like that. You must have increases of 10% or 15% which really strikes the price of tobacco.

There must be information campaigns, awareness, education. We must protect those who do not smoke. The Evin law must be strongly applied. It is necessary to prohibit all direct advertising, direct or indirect, for tobacco. We must help these who want to stop smoking. It is really necessary to do something other than what we are going at the moment and which for the young is practically confidential. Right then, lots of actions, quite a plan, but this plan does not include prohibition.

I think that what is more effective is a message of awareness, of prevention, of education. Personally I believe in the value of education. We are doing nothing at the moment in the classroom, in the high schools, in the secondary schools, or very few things. In the primary schools, we have to start very early, we take account of that. Well, we do nothing to demonstrate the dangers of tobacco. So, I am rather confident in the ability of the young to take on this message if it is done well. So I think that the teachers have a role to play. All those who can serve a bit as models, the doctors, but when we know that in medical studies, there is nothing about drug problems, legal or illicit, there is nothing, practically thing! So we feel then that we are a bit neglected. We tell ourselves: ‘we do not have the right to forbid whilst we have not even tried to provide education. It seems to me however that that ought to yield results; that it is perhaps however having this message heard, have it understood, or having it so that the young take it to heart rather that they want to prohibit it. I think that we are in a society where there is a tendency to want to prohibit, prohibit, and prohibit. So well, I read the results of the research, and in particular the recent research of the French laboratory for drugs and poisons, and I see that the French are saying: “tobacco is a problem, so is alcohol”. We ought perhaps to see effectively the hardening of the legislation in this regard, but the drug users say: cannabis poses fewer problems and we could see the free sale of cannabis. Listen, it is really that the information is good about legal drugs and about the illegal drugs? Well, I ask myself that often. I think that we don’t have the right to prohibit without having tried really to have them understand, without having confidence in the young. That way we risk making a sort of discrimination, and the young can be sensitive to the way in which we deal with them.

Senator Chabroux does not smoke himself.

No, I am not a smoker. I was a smoker when I did my military service, because really there was a real incentive to smoke. Tobacco was almost free and they gave us packets of cigarettes, so I did like the others. But I quickly took note that it was creating a lot of inconveniences that was not delivering any advantages, quite the opposite. So I stopped after my service and then I had not become dependant, and I had not difficulty and so I did not smoke. I think that we live in a world however where we are stuck very largely with what we should not do. We see on the television, we see in films, heroes, the stars, smoking, on television screens. Personally I find that incredible and in the end it encourages, it encourages smoking and at the same time we are saying: ‘we must prohibit’. I do not understand it. It is a sort of contradiction.

The views of Senator Chabroux are echoed in French homes where we have asked. In the tobacconists, of course:

– My opinion is that it is a law which will do nothing, you see. Let’s say that the young want to smoke, they will ask there elders to buy them cigarettes, so, in any case, they will smoke. And even I think that even possible that it will start racketeering because the older one who is going to buy cigarettes for the younger is going to take advantage by asking for a commission in paying for his cigarettes. For me it is a law that has no sense other than providing trouble for shop keepers!

But even in the street we were not able to find someone to support this law:

– Well I think that this will not change anything much at all! And then they ought to do something else, I don’t know what.

– No because in any case there will always be those who will sell cigarettes to young people of 16, so there will always be a way round the law. That’s it. There you are!

– What do I think about it? I think that it, finally, it will not change anything much. In theory I am in favour, we could perhaps stop selling cigarettes to those under 16, but I’m not sure that that will do much, right.

– I don’t know. I think that it ought to be somewhat effective. I agree that the young smoke too much, but prohibition, I think that in any case there will always be a way round it; as we cannot have a policemen in every cigarette shop, in practice I think that this will not work too well.

– Personally, I do not smoke and I do not really see the interest other than an interest in having a good conscience, but anyone can have his cigarettes bought by someone else, you see.

Nevertheless the bill has been passed by the majority in the Senate; it must now be examined but the National Assembly which will decide on its implementation.

[1] WHO – World Health Organisation based in Geneva in Switzerland. In French it is called Organisation Mondiale de Sante – OMS.

[2] The Evin law – an act of the French Parliament in 1990 to control advertising and the use of alcohol and tobacco and named after its sponsor Claude Evin.

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