French Move Toward Curbs on Smoking by Minors
PARIS, Feb. 11 â€” A "mini-revolution" is how the daily tabloid Le Parisien characterized the move today. In an effort to curb smoking among minors, the French Senate today approved a bill to ban cigarette sales to children under 16.
The legislation, which enjoys the support of the center-right government of President Jacques Chirac, will now go to the lower house of Parliament for consideration.
If passed, it would impose a $4,000 fine against vendors found selling tobacco to minors. Repeat offenders would pay double.
It would also ban the distribution of free cigarettes to minors as part of promotional campaigns and require high schools to educate students on the perils of smoking.
The average age that young people here start smoking is 14.
Young people who lie about their age to buy cigarettes would not be penalized.
Despite the fact that smoking kills between 40,000 and 60,000 people a year in France, the country is a smoker-friendly place.
A 1990 law forbids smoking in enclosed public places but the restrictions are rarely enforced.
Cigarette and even cigar smoking is often tolerated in restaurants, bars, offices and public spaces.
There are no restrictions against selling cigarettes to young people, and, according the French Health Education Committee, nearly 37 percent of people between the ages of 12 and 25 are smokers, compared with 18 percent in countries like Finland and Sweden.
The French health minister, Jean-FranÃ§ois Mattei, praised the move 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 added that the government planned to enforce the 1990 law and adopt new measures to deter smokers, including raising taxes on cigarettes.
He said he was confident that tobacconists, whom he said participated in a "commerce of death," would respect the law if it was passed.
He called smoking "the greatest killer in France," with eight times as many people killed by smoking than by automobile accidents.