French sales of tobacco go up in smoke as tax rises force cigarette buyers abroad

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The Independent Online

Sales of tobacco in France have fallen by 20.5 per cent in the first half of 2004, but only due to an increased number of smokers travelling abroad to purchase their cigarettes.

Sales of tobacco in France have fallen by 20.5 per cent in the first half of 2004, but only due to an increased number of smokers travelling abroad to purchase their cigarettes.

A study ordered by British American Tobacco, has shown that the use of tobacco in France fell by 7 per cent between April 2003 and April 2004, while the official sales had declined by 17 per cent.

The French government claimed the reduction in sales was a satisfactory result of its anti-smoking campaign and a rise in taxes. According to the French Documentation and Information Centre on Tobacco, tax rises led to price increases of 18 per cent in October 2003 and 9 per cent in January 2004.

But instead of quitting, many French smokers are simply crossing the border to buy their cigarettes. Under EU law, people are allowed to import tobacco for personal use.

While the average price of 20 cigarettes in France is €5 (£3.30), a packet costs only €2.65 in Spain and €3 in Luxembourg.

In the months after the two tax increases, tobacconists complained about the extent of the cigarette smuggling market, but the French government has cracked down on the trafficking. French tobacconists living in the border regions have recorded a greater drop in their tobacco sales than the national average.

But while the sales of cigarettes may have greatly declined, the sales of other tobacco products have increased. The market of cigars and cigarillos recorded a growth of 13.7 per cent and the sales of rolling and pipe tobacco rose by 18.1 per cent since the start of the year. "Compared with the drop in sales of cigarettes, the actual consumption of cigarettes is far less in decline. France is becoming the European champion of fiscal tourism", said the president of the French tobacconists' confederation, Rene Le Pape.

An official at the French health department told the French newspaper Liberation : "Part of the drop in sales is certainly due to the purchases made across the borders, but this does not translate the extent of the disaffection phenomenon which is showed by other indicators: a 50 per cent increase in the purchases of nicotine substitutes and of the consultations for detoxification."

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