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“Monsieur – would you like to take out a mortgage on that packet of cigarettes?”

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The link between price and tobacco consumption has been proved time and again: raise the price, lower the consumption. Give the French government credit for acting – rather drastically in fact – once they finally made up their collective minds that smoking is bad for people, especially young people:

    Tobacco vendors across France greeted a steep new increase in cigarette prices Monday by shutting their shops in an unprecedented nationwide strike against the government’s war on smoking.

    ….Monday’s 20 percent price rise pushed the average price per pack to euro4.60 ($5.40). It is the second increase of the year, with another looming in early 2004 that would raise prices to about euro5.40 ($6.30) per pack – roughly a 50 percent increase in the span of a year.

    The three tax hikes in 12 months will make France one of the most expensive places on the continent to smoke. With Monday’s increase, government taxes account for about 80 percent of the price per pack.

    ….Some 20 million French smoke – over a third of the population – as do 50 percent of youths aged 15-24, the highest rate in the European Union, government figures show.

    Health Minister Jean-Francois Mattei defended the tax increases as the most effective way to cut France’s dependancy on nicotine. Cigarette sales fell an unprecedented 8.2 percent in the first eight months of the year. [AP]

Imagine the tobacco belt legislative response to $6.30 a pack here, with 80% of the price coming from taxes. This is a particularly effective move because the price factor is strongest among young people who on average have less disposable income.

The “punishing the poor” argument? Dung – if the poor are priced out of the market, their health will improve and they will benefit disproportionately. There is no “compassion” involved in enabling cancer, emphysema, heart disease, etc., etc.

If the French are going to live with the Big State, you have to give them credit for wielding it when they think it’s the right thing to do, whether or not the decision is popular.

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About Eric Olsen

  • http://w6daily.winn.com/ Phillip Winn

    I suspect that approach works best in a place like France, whereas in New York it’s far too easy for most people to just buy their smokes in New Jersey.

  • Eric Olsen

    The advantage of a strong national government: rates are the same throughout the country. Smuggling and crossing state lines are certainly an issue, but every time you make it more expensive – including inconvenience as an expense – you reduce the behavior.

  • Perry Perdis

    Trust me, cigarette prices in NJ are very much the same as in NY. On a recent trip back home to NJ i drove through North Carolina and bought a few cartons of cigarettes for myself at the grand price of $20.00 per carton which relates to $2 per pack. Once in NJ i found that a carton of the very same cigarettes was $50.00 or $5 per pack.
    The only thing the tax hikes will do is increase travel to southern states to buy cheaper cigarettes. I’m already getting calls from friends up north asking me to buy cigarettes for them on my way up. Will i do it? ABSOLUTELY.
    Smoking is still a choice. If i choose to smoke, and i do, I take responsibility for that. I WILL NOT decide to suddenly sue the tobacco companies saying that i became addicted, it was MY CHOICE. Just as it will be my choice to quit smoking. Which is coming up very soon. I’ve had enough and it’s time to give it up. The struggle is ahead but i will be victorious.

  • Eric Olsen

    Perry, I appreciate your honesty, wish you the best in your pending campaign to quit (not easy, don’t think it is, it’s a physical, behavioral, and psychological addiction after all), and also don’t blame consumers for trying find the most economical prices for their purchases. I’m looking at this more from a meta perspective, and as such anything that makes smoking more expensive or inconvenient will inevitably reduce its use, especially among young people. I would like to see smoking banned in enclosed public and work places as in California, and taxes in place that truly reflect its costs to society, which may be somewhere in the French range, but I don’t know what the “appropriate” figure would be.

  • Perry Perdis

    Eric, I understand peoples rights to live and work in a smoke free society very much. I agree with it. People also have a tendency to over do things they strongly believe in. Legislation passed here in Florida last year and put into effect last summer has banned smoking in all restaurants that serve food. Obviously a noble piece of legislation.
    What was not considered was the amount of restaurants that have lost so much business that they had to close their doors. I know many owners that have either shut down or cut their staff down to reflect the loss in business.
    Not only is this a loss of income and jobs for employees and owners,but also of taxes which the local and state government collects. I believe this legislation was passed just give the anti smoking campaign a feather in their caps and not really thought out properly. Hundreds of millions of dollars are now lost. The restaurant i used to work at is now only doing 1/4 of it’s former business and struggling to keeps it’s doors open even after building a bar on the exterior deck because of these new rules. smokers are tired of being told they cant do something they enjoy where they please.
    In a way it’s a good idea and in another way it’s a REALLY bad idea.
    These people went into business to make money,not have their elected officials shoot them in the foot and make them smile about it. It’s something that wont easily be solved

  • Perry Perdis

    Restaurants that serve food. What an interesting comment lol
    Obviously i’m not fully awake yet, it should have been Establishments that serve food.

  • Eric Olsen

    I was under the impression the results of these things was very mixed and undecided as far as economic impact. I have heard that smokers are going out less but that nonsmokers are going out more in Cal. at least. I’m sure there is an adjustment period.

    I have no problem with indoor smoking areas as long as they are really well ventilated and the smoke doesn’t drift outside the “containment zone.”

    I agree it’s very difficult to do what’s right and reasonable for everyone – especially when “rights” conflict so completely.

  • The Theory

    Should an adult who starts smoking sue the tobacco industry? hell no.

    The tobacco industry has been targeting kids, who lack the judgement/wisdom to make decisions like that. How many people do you know that started smoking after they were over 18? The tobacco industry creed is simple. Hook them young and often and they’ll be life-long customers.

    THAT is where the tobacco industry should pay. I don’t know if suing is the right way to do it, but something does need to be done.

  • Perry Perdis

    True story:
    One day while taking a break from the kitchen, i sat at the bar. Being there were very few customers in the restaurant, i lit a cigarette. 75 feet away in another room with another air circulation system saw me,placed her hand over her mouth and RAN out of the restaurant saying she couldnt take the smoke. Her response took less than 5 seconds from the time i lit the cigarette. There was no possible way for the smoke to even get near her, never mind the amount that would take to cause her any distress. I can understand that she didnt want to be around it, but this kind of behavior is becoming rapidly acceptable. If she had just asked politely i would have cheerfully put it out.

  • http://www.tempenightowls.com Aaron G.

    Hey, I totally agree with you that a large state should legislate away things they find distasteful or in the public interest. So did Nazi Germany, but instead of doing it to smokes, they did it to Jews.

    Heil Chirac!

    Hey, maybe when France becomes a police state, you guys can be the official mouthpiece. It would be quite a prestigious step up for the Blogcritics organization.