France targets tobacco industry to raise cash for global healthBMJ 2011; 343 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.d6521 (Published 10 October 2011) Cite this as: BMJ 2011;343:d6521
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Benkimoun's dithyrambic piece about France introduction of a new
additional tax on the tobacco industry deserves several comments because
it is a misrepresentation of the facts.(1)
The first significant increases in taxes began as soon as 1991, when
Evin Law withdrew tobacco from the calculation of the Consumer Price
Index. President Chirac, when launching the first "Cancer Plan" in 2003,
stated: "I declare war against tobacco". A series of major increases in
taxes, four in less than a year and a half resulting in a 39% increase in
price, provided an unprecedented sales decrease from 83.5 to 55.0 billion
cigarettes between 2001 and 2004 (34%). However, the Tobacconists Union
organized demonstrations and obtained a freeze, "a good compromise"
according to its president. In fact this may be collaboration. In 2010,
the Minister of Budget, Fran?ois Baroin, favorably considered the third
request of the tobacco industry for a "moderate and reasonable" price
increase.(2) These increases in manufacturer's price were set up at a
level of 6 % which insufficient to decrease sales, they only increased
the manufacturer's profit.
On May 31, 2011, Xavier Bertrand, the Health Minister, announced that
he would maintain the freeze on taxes! It was only four months later, when
the French budget deficit rose, that the Prime minister announced a
tobacco tax increase, among others measures. Again, the level is 6 % and
will be insufficient to decrease sales, indeed the budget now plans for a
6% increase in tobacco tax revenue.(3) This measure cannot have a public
health impact! Moreover it is not a true increase in excise taxes as reported by Benkimoun. Indeed, 8% of the increase in the retail price (means €0.30 per pack) is devoted to the tobacconists and 12% to the manufacturers who will continue to increase their profits.
France was the first of the old Members of the European Union to
ratify the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control treaty in October 2004.
However, cigarette sales remain steady, from 54.9 billion in 2004 to 55 in
2010 and prevalence of smoking increases!(4) This is not surprising as
other measures for tobacco control are flawed. Eg. in 2011, France is only
the 39th country in the world to enforce pictures on packages and the
required size is only 30% on the front, far from the 80 % in Uruguay or
the plain package in Australia.(5,6)
1 Benkimoun P. France targets tobacco industry to raise cash for
global health. BMJ 2011;343:d6521
2 Anonymous. Taxes 12 millards plus de 10 milliards d'euro. Le
Figaro. 8 November 2010. Available at
du-tabac-augmente-de-30-cents-par-paquet-lundi.php Accessed 25 October
3 Senat. Projet de loi de finances rectificative pour 2011. 24
September 2011 Available at http://www.senat.fr/rap/l10-787/l10-78737.html
Accessed 14 October 2011.
4 Braillon A, Dubois G. Framework convention on tobacco control ... in
search of outcomes. The responsibility to protect. Health Policy.
5 Braillon A, Dubois G. Is your MP concerned about public health?
BMJ. 2011 ;343:d4883
6 Sweet M. Australia to mandate plain packs for cigarettes as part of
new tobacco control offensive. BMJ. 2010;340:c2401
Competing interests: Dr Braillon, a senior tenured consultant was sacked in 2010 from Professor Dubois' unit by the French Department of Health against the advice of the National Statutory Committee, while Professor Dubois is being sued for libel by the French Tobacconists Union.(Abuse of libel laws and a sacking: The gagging of public health experts in France. Tobacco control blog 8 November 2010. http://blogs.bmj.com/tc/2010/11/08/)