Policy Case Study
Understanding increases in smoking prevalence: case study from France in comparison with England 2000–10
In France, following a long-term decline in smoking prevalence, an increase in smoking was observed between 2005 and 2010, an unusual occurrence in countries in the ‘mature’ stage of the smoking epidemic. By contrast, smoking prevalence in England, the neighbouring country, continued its long-term decline.
We identified and translated recent reports on smoking and tobacco control in France and using these assessed the main data sources on smoking and compared them with similar sources in England, in order to explore possible explanations. In France, national smoking prevalence data are collected 5-yearly, minimizing opportunities for fine-grained analysis; the comparable study in England is implemented annually.
We identified several probable causes of the recent increased prevalence of smoking in France, the primary one being the absence of sufficient price rises between 2005 and 2010, due probably to the lack of a robust tobacco control strategy, which also appeared to have empowered tobacco industry influence. Funding to compensate tobacconists appears to incentivize tobacco sales and is significantly higher than tobacco control funding.
Mindful of the limitations of a case-study approach, the absence of sufficient price rises in the context of a weak tobacco control strategy seems the most likely explanation for the recent increase in smoking prevalence in France. A new cancer control plan and a national smoking reduction programme have been proposed by the French government in 2014 which, depending on implementation, may reverse the trend. In both countries, the higher levels of smoking among the more disadvantaged groups are of great concern and require greater political leadership for effective action.