PUBLIC HEALTH

French people have stopped giving up smoking, survey shows

A rise in number of French smokers – many of them low-income earners – in 2020 ends several years of steady decline during which millions gave up the habit.
A rise in number of French smokers – many of them low-income earners – in 2020 ends several years of steady decline during which millions gave up the habit. © AFP

A rebound in smoking in France has health authorities wondering if tobacco has lost its taboo – with a survey showing that one in three adults last year smoked at least occasionally. 

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The rise in number of smokers – many of them low-income earners – ends several years of steady decline during which millions of French people gave up the habit.

A quarter of adults aged 18-75 said they smoked every day in 2020, up from 24 percent in 2019. Meanwhile the number of non-smokers dropped from 37.7 percent to 35.5 percent.

The results of the survey, published by health agency Santé Publique France (SPF), have been linked to heightened anxiety levels brought on by the Covid pandemic and the ensuing months of lockdown.

Resurfacing addictions

Loïc Josseran of the Alliance Against Tobacco told the French news agency AFP that when a country’s population fell on hard times, addictive behaviours tended to resurface.

While SPF described the figures as a “stabilisation” in the number of smokers, Josseran said they represented a clear increase, especially among poorer, less educated people.

“Of the most vulnerable, 33.3 percent smoked daily in 2020,” he said. “Certainly the lack of social life, or places of culture and leisure would have made a cigarette smoked at a window almost indispensable.”

Despite the rising cost of cigarettes in France, every year tobacco kills more than 75,000 people.

SPF launched a campaign on Monday – World No Tobacco Day – to "celebrate" life without tobacco and encourage smokers to seek help quitting. 

As coronavirus restrictions were eased and people gathered again in public spaces, the health authority said it wanted to "denormalise" smoking, and promote a tobacco-free lifestyle.

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