France tells cigarette companies to use plain packs

By Reuters

Apr 16, 2015 10:36 AM EDT

France, home of historic Gitanes and Gauloises cigarettes with their iconic blue-and-white packaging, will require all tobacco companies to sell their wares in plain boxes from next year in an anti-smoking crackdown.

The measure is part of a reform passed in the lower house of parliament on Tuesday that also includes laws aimed at fighting anorexia, and new arrangements for funding consultations with doctors which have triggered major street protests by medics.

Tobacco firms will from May 2016 have to sell cigarettes in plain packaging with photographs of internal organs damaged by smoking, with the brand appearing only in small lettering.

Smoking will be banned in the presence of children in cars, as will the use of electronic cigarettes on public transport and offices.

Just under one in four French adults smoke daily - about the average for the European Union, a 2012 report by the Paris-based OECD think tank found. Foreign brands now dominate the market, with Gitanes and Gauloises now only smoked by a minority.

Measures banning excessively thin fashion models and websites that condone anorexia have already been passed in the same reform package, which also allows local authorities to experimentally set aside safe premises for use by drug addicts.

President Francois Hollande's ruling Socialists argue the reform includes long-overdue social advances and will also improve access to care in a country long admired for a health service now sometimes struggling to keep up with demand.

In particular, recent high-profile cases of pregnant women not reaching a maternity clinic in time to give birth there have highlighted the plight of so-called "medical deserts", largely rural zones badly served by hospitals and doctors.

"We have long said it is time to get rid of inequalities in healthcare - that is the aim of this reform," Health Minister Marisol Touraine told parliament before the vote.

But doctors' unions vowed to pursue protests against a law making doctor consultations widely free for the patient at the point of use and requiring the general practitioner to seek payment from the fund - a measure they say will leave them out of pocket despite clauses promising fast reimbursement.

While there are many exceptions, the current practice is to pay 23 euros up-front for a consultation and be reimbursed by the public health insurance fund later - an arrangement the government argues puts many low-earners off going to the doctor.

The law was passed in the lower house despite votes against from opposition conservatives. It will now go to the Senate upper house where some modifications are still possible.

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