French attitudes to smoking: Six of the latest trends

From the number of young people who smoke to the impact of Covid, we look at what the latest data tells us

Smoking is still relatively common in France, with rates much higher among those in lower income brackets and with less education
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Smoking is still at a high level in France, but most smokers want to quit, and vaping is on the rise: These are some of the key conclusions from a new survey on smoking in the country.

The report from the national health authority Santé publique France (SPF), uses the latest figures to gain insight into the state of smoking in the country today, among people aged 18 to 75.

1. Numbers of daily smokers creeping back up

The number of people smoking has stabilised after an unprecedented drop between 2016 and 2019.

Over that period, the proportion of respondents who said they smoked daily fell from 29.4% to 24.0%.

In 2022, more than three-in-10 people aged 18-75 said they smoked (31.8%). A quarter smoked daily (24.5%). This equates to almost 12 million people, according to SPF.

Men smoke more than women (27.4% of daily smokers, compared with 21.7%). However, the rising level of smoking among women seen between 2019 and 2021 has not increased any further.

Tobacco is still the leading cause of avoidable death in France, accounting for 75,000 deaths in 2015, or 13% of all deaths.

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

2. Higher proportion of smokers in low-income groups

SPF considers three markers of social status when considering who smokes. These are:

  • Qualifications

  • Income

  • Employment status.

Its survey results show the lower the education and income level, the higher the rate of daily smoking.

  • People with no diploma or lower than the Bac: 30.8%

  • People with a diploma above the Bac: 16.8%

  • Unemployed people: 42.3%

  • Employed: 26.1%

  • Students: 19.1%

The figures also show that more than a third (33.6%) of those in the lowest third of income levels smoke.

3. Vaping is on the increase

Vaping has been on the increase since 2016, although the percentage of people who vape daily is still low.

In 2022, 41.2% of 18-75 year-olds said they had already experimented with electronic cigarettes.

Yet, the number of people who vape daily is at just 5.5%.

Read also: We should ban e-cigarette flavours, says new official report in France

4. Majority of daily smokers want to quit

More than half of daily smokers say they want to stop.

  • 59.3% of daily smokers say they want to stop smoking

  • 26.4% say they plan to stop in the next 6 months

  • 30.3% have tried to stop for at least a week in the last 12 months.

A higher percentage of male smokers than female smokers want to stop smoking (61.7% vs. 56.5% of women). A higher percentage of male smokers than female smokers have attempted to stop in the last 12 months (34.3% vs. 25.8%).

5. Covid may have disrupted the trend towards fewer smokers

SPF said that “after a period of falling smoking rates between 2016 and 2019, the stability of smoking observed from 2020 onwards has continued in 2022”.

It said that “the impact of the health, social and economic crisis linked to Covid-19 cannot be ruled out” as a factor in why smoking rates did not continue to decrease among certain segments of the population.

It again highlighted the impact that social inequalities play in smoking rates. “This will be a major issue for the third national tobacco control programme, to be launched in 2023,” SPF said.

6. Significant drop in smoking among 17-year-olds

SPF said that its second national tobacco control programme, which launched in 2018 and ended in 2022, had seen “positive results”.

It said that it had observed:

  • An overall drop in daily smoking among adults (from 26.9% in 2017 to 24.5% in 2022)

  • A significant drop among 17-year-olds (from 25.1% in 2017 to 15.6% in 2022)

Read more: French teenagers are less interested in alcohol, cannabis and tobacco

It also said that there had been an increase in the volume of nicotine replacement therapies provided and in the number of healthcare professionals prescribing them.

There has also been a rise in the number of "smoke-free" locations across the country, it said.

Health Minister François Braun has said that he is aiming to achieve the first ‘tobacco-free generation’ by 2023 and has now announced that a new national tobacco control programme will be launched this year in partnership with SPF.

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