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Put up no-smoking signs outside French schools, says anti-cancer group

‘Denormalising’ smoking among young people is an effective way to stop them becoming smokers later in life, says La Ligue contre le cancer as it launches its ‘no smoking month’

La Ligue contre le cancer is calling for no-smoking signs to be installed outside of schools in France, to establish no-smoking zones and ‘denormalise’ smoking among young people Pic: Bokeh Blur Background / Shutterstock

An anti-cancer campaign group is calling for no-smoking zones around 60,000 schools in France in a bid to ‘denormalise’ smoking among young people.

La Ligue contre le cancer says installing no-smoking signs in front of schools would limit passive smoking, as well as stop young people from normalising smoking by seeing people with cigarettes.

Yana Dimitrova, prevention manager at the group, told the Journal du Dimanche: “We want a decree that draws a straight line from what is already law in public spaces and play areas.”

The group is calling for the rule to be in place around more schools in France. 

It is already in force in some cities and towns, including Bordeaux, Lyon, Colmar, and Doubs.

Pauline Grosjean, the mairie’s creche and schools manager in Lyon’s second arrondissement, explained: “School is the site of a lot of learning, and also where we must set an example, where parents must set an example too.”

The idea, she said, is to protect children and to try and prevent them from becoming smokers.

Would smokers who breach the rule receive fines or warnings?

In theory, they could; but in practice, this is rarely used. 

Ms Grosjean said that sanctions for parents who breach the rule in Lyon are “mainly symbolic. We are not about repression, we are about education; making sure parents bear in mind that in front of a school, near children, we don’t smoke”.

Mayor of Colmar, Éric Straumann, said: “The objective is obviously not to reprimand but the presence of a sign and the decision from the school council, constitute pressure on parents who come with their children, and who wait for them outside the school.”

He added: “Fining people is legally possible, but social pressure is enough I believe.”

Ricardo Domingues, who is on the Ligue contre le cancer committee in Gard, said: “Municipal decrees often allow for sanctions but in reality, we have never had to fine anyone.”

Is such a rule effective?

While some welcome the rule, some suggest it is not the right route to take. 

Jean-François Trapy, vice-president of parental union l'Union nationale des associations autonomes de parents d'élèves, said: “It would be better to do [education] campaigns, meaning events in schools with parent-pupil associations, with teachers, with the Ligue contre le cancer. 

“We should chat, explain what we’re doing, show photos.”

But Ms Dimitrova defended the measure, saying: “Denormalisation works directly on smoking habits, especially among young people. It’s a measure that has been analysed in different studies, which show that this is effective for protecting young people.”

Daniel Nizri, president of la Ligue contre le cancer, told FranceInfo at the weekend: “200,000 young people try cigarettes for the first time every year and around two in three will stay as smokers.”

He said that data suggest that “overall, more than 30% of cancers are due to tobacco”.

Rise in young smokers in France

It comes as figures show that young people in France are still at risk of becoming smokers early in life.

Dr Damien Mascret, a doctor and journalist at France Télévisions, has said that the greatest risk exists for people aged under 20.

He said: “Under 20 is the moment when we are most vulnerable to becoming addicted to tobacco. If we reach over the age of 20, there are fewer chances that we will become an addict.”

‘No smoking month’

La Ligue contre le cancer launched the call for no-smoking zones to coincide with its ‘no smoking month’, which started on November 1. 

Launched in 2016, the initiative is intended to raise awareness around the dangers of smoking, and to encourage people in France to quit the habit.

Since 2016, more than 900,000 people have become involved. This year, 52,000 people signed up to the month, pledging to attempt to give up smoking.

You can sign up to join the month and receive help from a stop-smoking specialist via the website, by calling 3989 in France, or downloading the Tabac info app.

Health body Santé publique France states: “Enlisting a health professional improves your chance of success in stopping smoking by 70%”. The chances of stopping for good also rise by a factor of five once you reach the 30-day mark.

Smoking in France: Key statistics

  • 17 million people in France smoke, or around 23%. This is the highest percentage in Western Europe.

  • In 2020, more than 30% of adults said that they are regular smokers (31.8% of 18-75s).

  • Cigarette smoking dropped every year from 2014 to 2019.

  • In contrast, between 2019 and 2020, daily consumption of tobacco rose by three percentage points among people on lower incomes.

  • Men smoke slightly more than women (36.2% of men versus 27.7% of women).

  • On average, regular adult smokers consume 13 cigarettes a day; just over half a pack.

  • Women smoke slightly fewer per day (11) than men (14).

  • The average age of smoking your first cigarette is 14.4 years.

  • Only around 5% of the population use vapes.

Death and cancer

  • 75,000 deaths per year in France are directly linked to smoking.

  • 27% of cancers are directly linked to smoking (lungs, throat, mouth, lips, pancreas).

  • Smoking is the first cause of avoidable death in France.

  • Regular smokers are twice as likely to die prematurely because of their habit.

Yet, smoking is on the decrease in France.

  • Increased numbers are trying to give up smoking; more than one-third of smokers tried for at least one week in 2019.

  • 1.9 million people have stopped smoking since 2014.

  • Between 2017-2020, the country dropped from third place to 10th place in the EU in terms of the number of people who smoke. 

  • It is now behind nine Eastern European countries including Greece, Bulgaria, and Croatia.

  • However, it is still in first place in Western Europe.

  • Tobacco consumption among young people is dropping; in 2014, one third said they smoked every day, but in 2017 this had dropped to one quarter.

Figures compiled by FranceInter from sources Santé publique France, and l'Observatoire Français des drogues et des toxicomanies.

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