This work aims to measure the France frequency of tobacco use. The latter, which largely concerns cigarettes, remains one of the main causes of death in the country and in the world, not only from cancer but also because of cardiovascular disorders.

In France, smoking finally began to decline in the second half of the 2010s, after more than a decade of anti-smoking campaigns, a turning point in public health that had been printed under President Jacques Chirac.

But the trend has now stopped. Figures from Public Health France, which date back to 2022 and are based on a survey of more than 3,000 adults under 75, show that smoking has remained at the same level as in 2019: about a third of people say they smoke, about a quarter say they do it every day.

The researchers have a main hypothesis to explain this interruption, although it is difficult to prove it. It is the Covid crisis and its anxiety-provoking environment for several reasons - health fears, strict restrictions, etc. - that would have pushed many people to continue, or resume, their tobacco consumption.

Collateral effect

"This (Covid) pandemic has also had an impact on the mental health of the population which has deteriorated, (...) anxiety and depressive disorders (being) associated with smoking," says the study conducted by epidemiologist Anne Pasquereau.

However, this was not inevitable as evidenced by the case of other countries just as affected by Covid, such as the United States. There, tobacco consumption has continued to decline to particularly low levels: just over 10 percent of Americans reported smoking cigarettes last year.

After a decline of unprecedented magnitude between 2016 and 2019, smoking has stabilized in France, but inequalities are high depending on the social © environment Emmanuel DUNAND / AFP / Archives

To better understand the difficulties of France in reducing tobacco consumption - also observed in other European countries such as Italy --,- we need to look in more detail at the smoking figures.

Tobacco consumption remains significantly higher among French people with the lowest incomes (a third of them smoke daily) despite a small rebound among the wealthiest. Looking more at the employment situation, four out of 10 unemployed people (42%) smoke every day.

Social inequalities are therefore strongly reflected in smoking, which some experts present as an unfortunate collateral effect of the public health campaigns at work in recent years.

"They have a greater impact among the most privileged social classes," explains in an editorial also published by Public Health France, tobaccologist Anne-Laurence Le Faou, calling for better targeted measures.

Young people smoke less

But, in terms of reducing smoking, there are also reasons to hope, as shown by a second study published by the agency, this time among the youngest.

Among the latter -- we are talking about 17-year-olds who were interviewed during their day of call for preparation for the defense in 2022--, tobacco use is less and less common, a trend also observed for other addictions such as alcohol.

"For the first time (since the launch of these studies in 2000), young people who have never tried smoking are in the majority," say the researchers, led by statistician Alex Brissot.

In 2022, 41.2% of 18-75 year olds say they have already experimented with electronic cigarettes. The prevalence of daily vaping rises to 5.5% © JOEL SAGET / AFP/Archives

The study, which also notes an effect of social inequalities among young people, notes an increase in the use of electronic cigarettes in this age group, at a time when the government is considering banning their disposable version - the "puffs".

But, reassuringly, their young consumers do not seem particularly inclined to switch to conventional cigarettes, a conclusion that remains to be confirmed.

© 2023 AFP