Tobacconists in France are protesting against plans to force cigarette companies to use plain, unbranded packaging by disabling traffic speed cameras. The protesters say the so-called radar “hooding” – the act of covering them with bin liners – is meant to be symbolic: a “cover up” that deprives the government of money in the same way that the anti-smoking legislation will reduce tobacco sales and tax revenue.
As many as 20 of 97 districts had been affected by the campaign, said the Buralistes Confederation, the group representing France’s “tabac bars”. A spokesman said that it was “a sign that anger is mounting.” French BFM TV showed a group of tobacconists wearing white masks on a night-time radar-hooding expedition.
Many of the tobacco outlets, with their distinctive red cigar-shaped signs, are also bars and cafés. Some also sell stamps and newspapers, but they point out that a key function on their monopoly on tobacco sales is collecting tobacco tax: €14 billion (US$15bn) for the French Treasury every year.
France is one of four EU countries that plan to follow Australia’s example and impose plain cigarette packaging in May 2016.
A European Union law passed last year mandated that health warnings cover 65% of the front and back of cigarette packs, and 50% of the sides. The remaining space is available for branding, but the law allows member states to impose plain packaging rules when “justified on grounds of public health, are proportionate and do not lead to hidden barriers to trade between member states”.
Philip Morris International and British American Tobacco have sued the British government over its plan to require plain packaging, arguing that it would rob them of their intellectual property and restrict trade.