France seeks to ban cigarette sales to minors
Tue Feb 11, 8:34 AM ET
PARIS - The Senate took the first step Tuesday toward disrupting the lifestyle of many French high schoolers, approving a proposed law to ban cigarette sales to children under 16.
Backed by French Health Minister Jean-Francois Mattei, the law would impose a 3,750-euro (US$4,000) fine against vendors found selling tobacco to minors and double the fine for repeat offenders.
Paris' main tabloid, The Parisien, in its Tuesday edition equated the pending law to a "mini-revolution" in smoking-friendly France, where there are no regulations against selling cigarettes to children.
The law, which still needs to clear the lower house of parliament, would also ban free distribution of cigarettes to minors as part of promotional campaigns and require high schools to educate students on the ills of smoking, which kills 60,000 people a year in France.
According to a recent study, nearly 37 percent of youths between the ages of 12 and 25 are smokers, said the French Health Education Committee. The average age of a child who starts smoking is 14, the study said.
A national law in effect since 1990 forbids smoking in enclosed, public places, but the restrictions are rarely enforced. Open defiance of the anti-smoking laws are witnessed in enclosed spaces everywhere, from subways and airports to offices and restaurants, many of which don't offer nonsmoking sections.
The Health Minister said the conservative government of President Jacques Chirac planned to step up enforcement of the 1990 law and adopt new measures to deter smokers, including a "permanent policy" of raising taxes on cigarettes.
Mattei hailed the proposed law as a "strong signal" to youths and one intended as a message to all smokers that the government wants to "make the position of smokers more uncomfortable each day." He said he hoped the law would be passed before this summer.