France, land of Gauloises, eyes 'no-brand' cigarettes

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[May 30, 2014]  PARIS (Reuters) - France is considering a move to brandless packets to curb smoking, instituting one of the world's toughest anti-tobacco policies in the home of chain-smoking singer Serge Gainsbourg and no-filter Gauloises cigarettes.

Health Minister Marisol Touraine is due to present a law next month that would stop cigarette manufacturers from printing their distinctive logos on packages, Le Figaro newspaper reported on Friday.

Plain packaging, with the cigarette brand written in small lettering under a graphic health warning, would be among a raft of radical measures to curb smoking, including a ban on using e-cigarettes, or "vaping", in public places, Le Figaro said.

Australia pioneered plain packaging for cigarettes in 2012 and Britain, New Zealand and Ireland all plan similar bans.

In a statement, France's Health Ministry said it was studying several options to curb smoking.

"We are far from the point of taking any decisions and no particular course of action has been determined so far," the ministry said.


With its cafe culture and chain-smoking Nouvelle Vague movie stars, France earned a reputation as a smokers' paradise after World War Two. Iconic dark-tobacco brands like Gitanes, favored by Gainsbourg, who smoked up to five packs a day, and Gauloises, preferred by philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre, grew hugely popular, in part thanks to their stylish packaging.

While the reputation sticks, smoking rates in France have since plummeted. Less than a third of the population now lights up regularly, which is about average for the European Union and down sharply from nearly 60 percent in the 1960s.

Tough anti-tobacco laws were introduced in 1991 which banned smoking in public places, forced cigarette manufacturers to display health warnings on packets and forbade large-scale advertising on billboards and TV.

Advocates of plain packaging argue that stripping packets of eye-catching logos is effective in reducing smoking among young people. Currently, one in three French people aged 15 to 19 is a smoker, according to the Health Ministry.

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As French smoking rates have declined, so has the country's once-vibrant tobacco industry. The state-owned Seita brand that produced Gauloises and Gitanes was bought by Britain's Imperial Tobacco in 2008, and much of its production moved abroad.

In April, Imperial Tobacco announced the closure of the largest Gauloise cigarette factory in France, prompting the factory's 327 workers to go on strike and hold five managers hostage on the worksite, near Nantes, this week.

The managers were released on Thursday after a day of captivity.

(Reporting by Nicholas Vinocur; Editing by Catherine Evans)

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