October 11, 2017
by Forest EU

Is history to blame for smoking rates?

Or what if tax increases on smoking had more to do with lobbying and signalling than with actual science?


President Macron’s government confirmed plans to increase the price of a packet of cigarettes to around €10 in France – in line with some of the highest tax countries in Europe. So much for our faith in the French joie de vivre (see previous blog)!

Heath minister Agnès Buzyn justified the hike by stating that where tobacco prices are higher, there tends to be less smoking.

Some studies do indeed show a statistical correlation between prices and smoking rates. But there are so many other apparent links between smoking and certain types of behaviour that it is difficult to prove a cause-and-effect.

For example, glancing at the global statistics on smoking rates it is tempting to draw some light hearted cultural hypotheses about smoking and other cultural norms. So countries where people like a drink, where women are relatively liberated, but where incomes are not particularly high, seem to enjoy a cigarette more than others. Places like Greece, Cyprus and some countries in Central and Eastern Europe spring out.

Or else, perhaps you could draw a link between European countries with a Protestant tradition and those with a Catholic one. It is certainly a common cliché to portray northern European history as stronger on constitutional liberties but stricter on lifestyle ones.

The point is that you can draw any number of statistical correlations and apply them to suit the argument. Buzyn has no real evidence behind her assertion. Instead, tax increases on smoking – which hurt the poorest most of course – have more to do with the political practice of lobbying and signalling than with science.

The truth is that smoking rates have been in gentle decline in developed countries for some decades now, uninfluenced by the various measures taken by politicians in recent years to bolster the State coffers by victimising the smokers.

Governments across Europe would do well to avoid confusing people to justify their actions and focus their efforts on the many more important issues that are piling upon their desks.

Featured image: Le Fumeur, by Georges De La Tour, 1646

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About Forest EU

Since 1979, Forest has been the leading voice in defending the rights of tobacco consumers and tolerant non-smokers. As an advocacy campaign, Forest EU informs consumers about issues that affect them in the European Union and engages with stakeholders so the views of informed adults are taken into account within the EU’s decision-making process. Forest EU doesn’t encourage smoking, accepts there are serious health risks associated with smoking tobacco and represents the consumer, not the tobacco industry. For more information, visit http://forestonline.eu/.

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