Up in smoke.
Since January 2017, France requires all cigarette packs to be sold in plain packaging — they all come in the same green-ish colour, only a neutral font lets the consumer identify the different brands. The government’s anti-tobacco fanaticism costs the taxpayer a fortune.
It sounded a bit like Paris had Stockholm Syndrome when the papers announced “the government is buying 100 million euros worth of cigarettes off of French tobacconists”. These coloured packs which were delivered to the tobacconists before the law and make a up a total amount of 15 million packs of cigarettes, or a 36-hour tobacco consumption of the entire country. With a total weight of 250 tons, an astounding number of old, coloured packs, complete with brand name, will be prohibited soon.
French health minister Marisol Touraine decided in 2015 that the République was going to follow in Australia’s footsteps and mandate that tobacco products be sold in plain packaging. The Ministry of the Economy consequently brokered a deal with the tobacconists, requiring them to empty their stock between May 2016 and January 2017, but also added a requirement that demonstrates the tremendous business-illiteracy of modern politics: the sales points will be reimbursed by the French government for all the leftover cigarette packages in January 2017.
Unsurprisingly, retailers started to sell the new plain packaged cigarettes as early as possible, and allegedly even bought further stocks of the classic packs in order to profit from the promise made by the government. Towards the end of 2016, when it became clear what the tobacconists were up to, the Minister of the Economy panicked and demanded that the import date of all packs must be apparent in order for the reimbursement to take place.
The industry called this requirement “impossible to fulfill” and now had to hire 40 people in order to sort the different packs of cigarettes. The bill, which is expected to reach 100 million euros for the destroyed cigarettes alones, is representative of the fanaticism of French anti-tobacco policy. One hundred million euros which, as the packs will inevitably be destroyed by the government, will literally go up in flames.
What’s “Unintended Consequences” in French?
The health minister is equally ignorant when it comes to the immediate consequence of the plain packaging laws, notably making it easier for tobacco counterfeiters (as all packs will now look the same).
Neutralising marketing makes it easier to copy the products and lets the black market thrive. Between mid-2011 and mid-2013, Australia (the first country to introduce plain-packaging of tobacco in 2011) has seen a 60 percent increase in cigarette counterfeiting. The same effect of increased numbers of fake cigarettes can be seen in the United Kingdom, where counterfeiting tobacco brands generates 45 million pounds a year. These fake products bear enormous risks, as an inquiry for The Sun finds:
“Independent lab analysis carried out for The Sun later revealed one pack of his [the dealer they got the product from] cigs contained insect droppings, eggs, skin, mites, “unknown organic matter” and a stone.”
The initial intention of France’s plain packaging law, which is to protect impressionable children, has been also been disproven by a study by the Department of Economics at the University of Zurich in Switzerland in 2014:
“Altogether, we have applied quite liberal inference techniques, that is, our analysis, if anything, is slightly biased in favor of finding a statistically significant (negative) effect of plain packaging on smoking prevalence of Australians aged 14 to 17 years. Nevertheless, no such evidence has been discovered.”
How much more of hard earned taxpayer money will have to go to waste for the French public to realise that Paris’ nanny state policy is pricey, patronising and ineffective? Because once they find out it’ll be shock…
… and they might want to sit-down and have a smoke.