French health minister considers banning smoking from films

Rory Mulholland
French writer Albert Camus smoking in Paris in 1959 - AFP

The sultry smoker lighting up on a Parisian café terrace, a staple image for countless French films, could soon be a thing of the past if the country’s health minister goes ahead with plans to ban smoking in movies.

Jean-Paul Belmondo with a Gauloise permanently hanging from his lips in Godard’s classic movie Breathless is a perfect example of the romantic image the cigarette is given on the big screen in France.

That was back in 1960, when far more people smoked, but even today more than three quarters of French-made films still show people smoking, according to figures compiled by a French senator.

Health Minister Agnès Buzyn says that this needs to come to an end as part of her plans to “denormalise” smoking, which kills around 75,000 people every year in France.

“We know that major advertising campaigns [to encourage people to quit cigarettes] do not work,” she said on Friday, adding that other methods such as targeting young people on social media or banning cigarettes from the big screen should be tried.

Then French Health Minister Simone Veil smoking in Paris in 1974 Credit: AFP/Getty Images

“I don’t understand the importance of cigarettes in French cinema,” she said.

Ms Buzyn said she would be contacting the French culture minister - whose remit includes the country’s film industry - to discuss the issue and that so-far unspecified “measures” would be taken to make French directors and screenwriters kick their tobacco habit.

The minister announced in July that cigarette prices would gradually rise from the current average of around €6.50 (£5.80) for a pack of 20 to €10 within the next three years - still cheaper than the average packet of cigarettes in the UK.

She also pointed out that smoking rates in Britain have dropped from around 30 percent to 20 percent over the past decade as the government pursued a policy of hefty price hikes, while the smoking rate was still around 30 percent in France.

World Health Organisation figures say the number of French smokers is roughly 50 percent higher than in Britain.

The WHO last year called on governments to give an over-18 rating to any film that portrays tobacco use in a bid to prevent children and adolescents from starting to smoke cigarettes.

It gave figures that said that in 2014, smoking was found in 44 percent of all Hollywood films, and in 36 percent of films rated suitable for young people.

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