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France to adopt plain tobacco packaging and restrict ecigarettes

France said on Thursday that it planned to introduce some of the world’s toughest antismoking legislation, forcing tobacco companies to adopt neutral packaging and restricting the use of electronic cigarettes.

The country that gave the world Gauloises – as well as glamorous celebrity smokers such as Serge Gainsbourg and Brigitte Bardot – said the stricter rules would see all cigarettes sold in packages “the same shape, same size, same colour, same typeset”

Marisol Touraine, health minister, said the plans were designed to combat the adoption of smoking among French youth – in part by making the packaging less attractive.

She said the rules may also include bans on the use of electronic cigarettes in some public places such as schools and in the workplace. They could also ban smoking in vehicles in the presence of children aged 12 or under.

Ms Touraine said smoking caused 73,000 deaths a year in France – equivalent to 200 people a day. Among other things, the plan aims to reduce the number of smokers to fewer than 20 per cent of the population within 10 years, compared with 28 per cent today.

As part of an EU directive passed in February, tobacco companies selling their products in the EU already have to cover 65 per cent of the front and back of cigarette packets with text and picture health warnings.

They are also prohibited from selling cigarettes in slim, “lipstick-style” packages, often designed to attract young women to smoke.

The European Commission said at the time that it expected the rules to trigger a 2 per cent fall in tobacco consumption over the next five years – equivalent to 2.4m fewer smokers in the EU. It also estimated annual healthcare savings of about €506m.

Tobacco use is responsible for an estimated 700,000 avoidable deaths in the EU every year, according to the commission. It says 70 per cent of smokers start before their 18th birthday, and 94 per cent before the age of 25.

But the measures contemplated by France would go much further than EU regulations, putting laws on a par with those in place in Australia, which force producers to use identical, olive-green packaging with the same typeface, covered in health warnings and void of any brand logos.

A survey in July showed smoking rates in Australia fell at their fastest pace in more than two decades following the introduction of the rules.

The survey showed young people were delaying taking up smoking, with the average age that people consume their first full cigarette rising to 15.9 years, up from 14.2 years in 2010. The average number of cigarettes smoked per week also fell, from 111 in 2010 to 96 in 2013.

However, this research was disputed by British American Tobacco, which also said France had carried out no consultation over a policy that breached EU laws. “This policy has failed to reduce smoking in Australia … and there is no reason to believe it will work in France either,” BAT said.

Pascal Montredon, president of the tobacconists’ confederation in France, called the government’s plans “a catastrophe”, insisting the measures would only lead to an increase in contraband while doing nothing to reduce consumption. “It is a scandal,” he said. “It is like a bucket of cold water.”