The first time I visited France, something really stood out to me. Yes, the gorgeous pastries and architecture of course, but that’s not what I’m talking about here. What really struck me as odd, and a marked difference between the US and France, was the fact that everyone seemed to smoke cigarettes. Was it a coincidence? Was I just noticing the smokers? Surely French people know better, right?
So why do French people smoke so much? Let’s find out more!
Myth of the month: All French people smoke cigarettes
Yes, French people smoke a lot.
My husband smokes. I hate it. I hate the smell, I hate how it looks, I hate the cost, and most of all, I hate what it’s silently doing to his health with every puff. Not a single one of my friends or family members at home in the US smokes and I guess I got used to that.
But in France, I don’t go a day without feeling bad about someone’s smoking habit — usually a complete stranger. Like kids on the street waiting at the bus stop just chain smoking until the bus comes. Why do French people smoke so much?
Call me crazy, but kids, COME ON! You have your whole life ahead of you, so just quit now! It just breaks my heart to see teenagers smoking like chimneys. I know it’s not easy to quit, but my favorite saying is “Nothing worth doing is ever easy!” People do what they want, though, and I can’t save the world. Anyway…
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This is just my perception, but it seems that in the US, people know that smoking can do serious damage and therefore don’t smoke as much. In France, it almost seems cool and accepted. But plenty of Americans do smoke; I’m not denying that. I just feel like Americans are less likely to accept it from friends and family. In France, they know that smoking kills. It’s all over the cigarette cartons.
Yet still, why do French people smoke so much? The question remains
First, let’s get the facts.
So first some facts about smoking (from the CDC):
- Worldwide, tobacco use causes more than 5 million deaths per year, and current trends show that tobacco use will cause more than 8 million deaths annually by 2030.
- In the United States, tobacco use is responsible for about one in five deaths annually (i.e., about 443,000 deaths per year, and an estimated 49,000 of these smoking-related deaths are the result of secondhand smoke exposure). On average, smokers die 13 to 14 years earlier than nonsmokers.
- Percentage of U.S. adults who were current smokers in 2010: 19.3 percent of all adults (45.3 million people)
Do all French people smoke?
Facts about smoking in France:
- The proportion of 18-75-year-olds who are regular smokers has risen two points to 30 percent since 2005.
- Smoking is the number one killer of adults in France.
- 66,000 people die annually in France as a result of smoking.
- In January 1, 2008, smoking was banned in all public places.
While 30 percent is still a huge figure, it’s nowhere near “all.” It is about 10 percent higher than the rate in the US, though.
My point of view is this: Why take the risk when it’s something that’s 100 percent within your control?
There are so many things we cannot control in life, so why pay to shorten your life expectancy and open yourself up to all kinds of diseases? Not worth it.
So why do French people smoke so much? I’m putting it out there… what do you think? They just assume they’ll quit later? That cancer won’t find them? That it’s not really that bad? Do they not want to quit? I don’t think it’s because of lack of education. Maybe French people smoke because they like it. To each his (or her) own. End of story.
Share your thoughts on why it seems like all French people smoke below! Why do French people smoke so much, in your opinion?
une bonne cigarette says
Mais d’ou viens la plupart du tabac fumé par les français .Oh mon dieu! Cela viens des usa .Ne me dites pas en plus que cette terrible industrie du tabac, est en plus soutenue par des fonds de pensions Américains .Je suis d,accord avec vous les français sont vraiment des cons .On va crever du tabac pour payer les retraites des Américains.Le plus grave c,est que se tabac est déversé sur le continent Africain ,ou il n,y a aucune prévention .J,adore la bonne conscience ,de vos compatriotes .
Hmmm, le commentaire ci-dessus est tout à fait intéressant.. Je ne sais pas si je suis d’accord avec tout ce qu’il a dit. J’ai récemment lu que de nos jours, les Etats-Unis n’est que le 4e plus grand producteur de tabac dans le monde – après la Chine, l’Inde et le Brésil. Donc, je ne pense pas que ce soit nécessairement la faute des Américains. Mais bon – it’s food for thought.
I must admit, I am an occasional smoker. As in, once a week or even once every two weeks. Mainly on social occasions. I am half Mediterranean, half Asian – and my French boyfriend hates it.
I would say 50% of my French friends smoke and 50% do not. It’s a much higher percentage of friends who smoke than, say, my friends in London or New York or Vancouver. The Anglophone world in general. But nothing comparable to Spain (at least, that’s my impression).
When I speak to my French friends about it, it seems that the regular ones do it because a) it relieves stress (or they feel that it relieves stress) and b) they love the taste of it. I notice that at work, my French smoking colleagues light up every time they feel stressed. It’s a hit of relief.
As for the taste – some of them truly do believe it tastes very good, and goes perfectly with a coffee, for example. It is definitely an acquired taste – like strong liquors and such. But to them cigarettes certainly have a pleasure principle.
Lastly – I think there is a kind of romance Europeans in general attach to it. You know, the way of holding a cigarette, the idea of smoking – in Europe, it can be considered very sexy, very 50s, very artistic. I must admit that sometimes I too have the same perception of it. Yes, it’s part advertising – but mostly, I’d say, it’s cultural. The French have built up a stock of idealised images when it comes to smoking – and now that’s in their culture.
Anyway – sorry for my long tirade!! I hope I have contributed something small to the debate. It’s definitely an interesting one in France and Europe in general.
Hi, thanks for commenting! The USA of course contributes to the problem. Smoking is a huge moneymaker like many things. But we all have a choice. I think you nailed it at the end, that there’s an element of romance to the whole act of smoking, that European aspect like you described. Totally the culture and I guess something I’ll never understand 100%. Thanks for stopping by!
houps !Qui détient les les boites dans les pays que vous citez .mince j,ai donné la réponse
Je me suis dit .Ne le répétez pas .Les douanes françaises sont forcément des .”bordel les douanes françaises nous mentent”Je ne peut pas dire ce que je pense ,les industries du tabac sont tellement puissante par rapport a notre petit pays .Savez vous que 50 pour cent du tabac qui arrive en France est fourni par les industrielles du tabac qui viennent de virginie .Méchant français ..Je maintiens que les plus gros fournisseurs de tabacs sont américains .Pire ,j,ai essayé de trouver une excuse .Allez voire les fournisseurs de tabac du Congo
Germans smoke more than French, Brittons smoke more, Spaniards, Greeks, Poles,…
and look, in ’40’s / ’50s / 60’s american movies, everybody smokes !
US+Canadians+Brits troops “freed” Europe while enslaving it with “the torch of liberty”, the mirage of liberty.
see also edward bernays >>> http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x9wv2w_edward-bernays-propaganda-1-2-vostf_news#.UdmmRj5Ooao.
And Americans take so so many other drugs !
smokeless drugs of course.
so come on, give us a break.
I don’t think Americans are perfect by any means. But when it comes to the culture of smoking, I absolutely feel France accepts it more as a socially cool thing to do. But as the post says, not all French people smoke — just a myth!
I desired to give you a quick thanks for this fine
J’ai vécu en France pour une grande partie des années 80, j’ai trouvé que c’était un endroit merveilleux. J’ai trouvé tellement d’acceptation, d’intelligence et de bonté …… je voudrais aller tous les jours au café et discuter des événements du monde avec mes amis …. que nous fumions. Il me semblait à l’époque que tout le monde fumait …. je fume, donc évidemment il n’ya pas de jugement ci-joint.
I’m an American and a former smoker. I just landed in Paris and, after 2 years of not smoking, all of a sudden I want to light up again! There’s definitely something in the air (so to speak).
One fallacy in your post is the statement that people can control their smoking. Smoking is an addiction. You have control over starting it, but very little over stopping it. Studies show it’s harder to quit smoking than quit heroin.
My only point being that there maybe some French who want to quit but are unable to, and being surrounded by it makes it that much more difficult.
Hi Aamir, thanks for your comment. And I absolutely believe that arriving in Paris would trigger major cravings. I hope you were able to resist. My line about control, I was referring to the very first time someone decides to light up a cigarette. I understand smoking is an addiction like any other and of course it’s not easy to quit once you’ve started. But the choice to smoke for that first time is within one’s control. That’s all I meant. Addiction is powerful and I wish my husband would quit. But it’s not that easy. It’s sad how ingrained it is in the culture here. I hope you’re smoke-free!
Just want to add that no, not everyone gets addicted to tobacco. Many do. However, some people can be occasional smokers. I smoked 1-2 packs a day for three years when I was younger and then put it down one day and didn’t touch it for over 20 years. No problem. No withdrawal. I stopped because I simply didn’t enjoy it anymore and I was coughing a lot. Now, I smoke a few cigarettes here and there..often weeks or months pass without me smoking. Smoking has a deeply psychological addiction component for many. The physical addiction can be kicked in a week or two.. it’s the mental addiction that many people can’t handle. Taking benzos is a thousand times more addictive physically and if stopped suddenly can cause seizures and land you in the hospital. So let’s keep things in perspective.
Hi Diane, really enjoyed reading your article. Thanks 🙂
shisha pen says
A year ago I was in France for couple of weeks and I have seen a big scale of smoking women, much bigger ratio in comparison to US and UK. But it’s true that not all the French people smokes.
Nick B says
I’m English and cycling from Calais to Marseille and my first question I found myself asking was exactly this. Why do French people smoke so much and, like you, I find myself feeling bad for them – not in a patronising way but just that it feels so wrong to see these horrible things in the hands of pretty much everyone. It’s so strange! I was glad to see I was not alone in my consternation.