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Is it illegal to smoke while driving in France?

France has around 15 million smokers but proportionally has fewer than the EU average

It is not uncommon to see drivers in France smoking Pic: aerogondo2 / Shutterstock

Reader question: I see many drivers in France with a cigarette in their hand, smoking. I thought this was illegal due to being dangerous - is that right?

Technically driving while smoking is legal, although there are two notable exceptions. 

Firstly, drivers in France are expected to be responsible for their vehicle and are obliged to behave at “at all times in a cautious and respectful manner towards other road users”, in accordance with article R412-6 of the highway code. 

Smoking a cigarette in a car is not strictly speaking prohibited by law and neither is holding a cigarette while driving. But if doing so causes a driver to not drive in a responsible manner or to not pay attention to the road, they can face a fine. 

The same goes for smoking e-cigarettes. 

The fine is usually €35 but it can rise to €75 after repeat offences or even €150 in some cases. 

Drivers will not, however, lose points on their licence for this infraction. 

Secondly, since July 2015 it has been illegal to smoke in a car in which there is a child aged under 12. This goes for the driver and any passenger. 

Anyone caught breaking this law risks a fine of €135, which can in certain situations rise to €750. 

E-cigarettes are also included in this.

Article L3511-2 of the Public Health Code states:

“Products intended to be smoked, sniffed, chewed or sucked, provided that they are, even partially, made of tobacco, as well as products intended to be smoked even if they do not contain tobacco, shall be considered as tobacco products.”

France has around 15 million smokers (daily or occasional), figures from Santé Publique France show, while 4.4% of the population ‘vape’ regularly, meaning smoke e-cigarettes. 

The latest figures from EU statistics agency Eurostat show that the proportion of smokers in France is, though, lower than the EU average (see graphic below).

Credit: Eurostat 

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