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French MPs vote to ban smoking in forests when wildfire risk is high

Offenders could face fines of up to €150,000 or a ten-year jail sentence

Discarded cigarettes can easily start wildfires, particularly during drought conditions Pic: Vital9s / Shutterstock

French MPs have passed a new law that bans smoking in and around all woods and forests during increased wildfire risk periods.

The legislation prohibits smoking and discarding cigarette butts in wooded areas – and within a 200-metre vicinity of them.

Heavy fines will be issued to those caught, and if someone is killed in a fire caused by a discarded cigarette, the individual could be fined up to €150,000 and face a ten-year jail sentence.

The law passed a vote in France’s parliament, the assemblée nationale, on Wednesday (May 17) evening – despite complaints from both left- and right-wing parties that it did not go far enough. 

MPs and senators are looking to create a common version of the text as quickly as possible to implement the law before summer.

Read also: Map: The 26 French departments at high risk of drought this summer

Attempts to repeat last year’s disaster

The motion was passed on its first reading, although additions were made to the bill to widen its impact, namely from Renaissance party MP Anthony Brosse.

In particular, Mr Brosse added the 200-metre limit to the motion, as well as widening the smoking ban nationally to all woodland and forest parcels during increased fire risks, not just certain areas.

The period of ‘high-risk’, however, is to be defined by local prefects, instead of a predetermined beginning and end date set by parliament, to allow flexibility.

France has already faced its first major wildfire of 2023 – in April, almost 1,000 hectares of forest was destroyed in the Pyrénées-Orientales department, and the new law is part of efforts to prevent a disaster similar to last year, where around 70,000 hectares of forest were destroyed by fires, largely in the south-west.

Earlier this week, Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin announced the government is sending additional anti-forest fire resources to the Pyrénées-Orientales department after it announced drought ‘crisis’ warnings in some areas.

Read more: Forest fire risk in parts of southern France raised to ‘very severe’

A number of measures introduced

France’s parliament passed a number of motions alongside the smoking ban to increase protection nationwide against forest fires.

This included strengthening the obligation to clear undergrowth near gardens, as well as legal measures to allow volunteer firefighters to be absent from their workplaces during emergencies, without facing penalties.

One proposed law – that would see the fuel tax exemption for emergency fire and rescue services scrapped – was shot down by the vast majority of MPs, including those from Macron’s party.

Left-wing Green MPs (as part of the NUPES coalition) attempted to ban the chopping and replanting of trees after forest fires, which they say “prevents the forest from re-growing naturally”, but the motion did not pass.

Read more: France wildfires: MPs vote to hike fines for not clearing your garden

A forest-fire risk map is set to be launched next month, giving daily updates on the likelihood of wildfires across the country, which can be accessed both by emergency services and members of the public.

Read more: France will soon roll out a ‘wildfire risk map’. How will it work?

Related articles 

How France wants to stop another record year of wildfires

Firefighters forced to get water from sea in drought-hit south France

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