NICOLAS Sarkozy, president of Les Républicains, has condemned the introduction of plain packaging for cigarettes.
Last November, parliament narrowly passed a law to introduce plain packaging for cigarettes from May this year in a bid to cut the number of young people taking up the habit.
But Mr Sarkozy yesterday warned party members at a meeting on agriculture and rural France: "If we accept the neutral cigarette packet, in six months you will be offered a neutral bottle of wine, and this will be the end of our names; it will be the end of our land; it will be the end of our know-how.
“Tomorrow, ‘fundamentalists’ will demand a neutral bottle for wines. Then neutral cheese.”
Mr Sarkozy’s comments were described as ‘inappropriate, unacceptable and irresponsible’ by the president of the French Office of Tobacco Control, Bertrand Dautzenberg, who pointed out that the tobacco industry in France is virtually non-existent. “There are no cigarette areas in France. The majority of French tobacco is made in Poland.”
EU laws already mean tobacco firms must cover 65% of the packaging with health warnings, but France’s Health Minister Marisol Touraine said when the law was passed that, from May, the rest of the packet will be ‘the same shape, same size, same colour, same typeset’.
It is estimated that there are 13million smokers in France, and about 78,000 people die of tobacco-related illnesses every year - making smoking the leading cause of premature deaths in the country. The World Health Organisation also said that one-third of teenagers smoke.
Meanwhile, students at lycees across France could be allowed to smoke on the premises for the first time since a ban was imposed in 1991 as the state of emergency continues, it has emerged.
Michel Richard, of the SNPDEN school administrators’ union, has called for school students to be allowed to smoke in designated areas inside school grounds. It has been reported that some schools have already taken this step.
Mr Richard argued that student smokers gathered in groups outside schools could be an easy target for so-called ‘lone wolf’ terrorists. He said that he had written to Prime Minister Manuel Valls to call for the ban on smoking in schools to be, at least temporarily, lifted.
"We are always going to fight against smoking, but when it comes to the difference between a Kalashnikov and a cigarette, the risk just isn't the same," Mr Richard told Le Figaro.