One million people stopped smoking between 2016-2017

The drop has been attributed to a rise in the use of stop smoking aids and the introduction of “neutral packets”, a new report has found.

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The report (le bulletin épidémiologique hebdomadaire (BEH)) from Santé Publique France - published this week to coincide with the World Health Organisation’s World No Tobacco Day on May 31 - shows the number of smokers to have dropped from 29.4% in 2016 to 26.9% in 2017.

For the first time since the year 2000, the drop included people in the lowest socio-economic groups - those most likely to smoke in the first place - including those with the lowest income and those who left school without passing the Baccalaureate.

Young men aged 18-24 were the most likely to have stopped smoking, the report showed.

In 2016, 44% of men this age smoked, compared to 35% in 2017. (Women did not see similar drops, however.)

Anti-smoking campaigns appear to be having the desired effect among teenagers too, as six in ten teens said they had tried smoking in 2017 - a drop from eight in ten in 2014.

Lycée-age teenagers (around age 15-18) are also smoking less; figures show that the habit has dropped by 23% among kids aged 17 and under, between 2014 and 2017.

The report attributed this “tobacco retreat” to two main factors.

The first is the recent increase in the reimbursement given for “stop smoking” products, including nicotine gum, pastilles or patches, from €50 to €150.

In one year, due to this, sales of these products soared by 28%, and doctor’s prescriptions for them increased.

The second factor is the “neutral packets”, which came into force in January 2017, and which take away all advertising, bright colours and most of the branding from cigarette packets, leaving only the health warnings intact.

Reducing smoking has been a government priority in recent years, with the price of a packet of cigarettes set to reach €10 by 2020.

Agnès Buzyn, health minister, said: “These results are encouraging, and mark a real breaking point. With the rises in taxation, we can continue to hope that these results will continue.

“I remind people that smoking kills 200 people every day in France. We know that half of all smokers will die of something related to their smoking, [so] we must continue this huge battle against one of the biggest scourges in public health.”

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