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Cigarettes are about to get a lot more expensive in France. The government hopes to bring down the country's high smoking rate by nearly doubling the price of a pack, which sounds great if you're campaigning for public health and not so great if you're a French tobacco shop owner. NPR's Eleanor Beardsley reports.
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ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: In Paris, hundreds of tobacco shops closed, and their owners came out to block intersections in protest. Tobacconists say the price rise is only the latest in a spate of repressive measures. Brand packages were banned last year. All French cigarettes now come in the same white pack with the big picture of a diseased organ on the front. Tobacconist Marie Valicourt says enough is enough.
MARIE VALICOURT: (Through interpreter) Do you know a lot of small business owners who have been working hard for 25 years, and all of the sudden, they become a pariah? We actually work for the state. And it's the state that's trying to ruin us.
BEARDSLEY: Cigarettes in France will cost 8 euros by the end of the year. They'll gradually rise to 10 euros a pack within three years. Tobacconists say their shops, which are often linked with a bar or cafe, could close in many small communities if the price of cigarettes skyrockets. They say this could open the door for the sale of illegal, contraband cigarettes. But the French government seems more concerned by the fact that its citizens are among Europe's heaviest smokers.
According to the French health ministry, around a quarter of adults smoke, double the rate of Sweden. For young people, it's even worse. Stand outside any high school or even middle school when the bell rings, and you'll see plenty of kids lighting up. Statistics show anywhere from 30 to 40 percent of French 15- to 24-year-olds regularly smoke. Compare that to less than 10 percent of American teens. The hefty price hike is aimed at dissuading young people from starting, says Emmanuelle Beguinot with the French national committee for tobacco control.
EMMANUELLE BEGUINOT: We know that when you increase tobacco taxes - with significant increase, it's very efficient.
BEARDSLEY: Beguinot says the real problem is, thanks to pop culture, too many young French people still consider smoking glamorous. Changing that might take a while. But in the meantime, making it out of their price range is bound to have an effect. Eleanor Beardsley, NPR News, Paris.
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