Both popular and elitist, cigarettes have long been a cultural symbol in France, both in film and literature. Today, however, the law is very strict and tobacco consumption is strictly supervised. In this article, we explain everything you need to know about the legal smoking age in France, the ban on smoking in public places, and the place of cigarettes in French culture!
Legal Age for Smoking a Cigarette in France
Cigarettes have been strictly controlled by the authorities for several years, in order to curb smoking among young people.
What is the Legal Smoking Age in France?
The legal smoking age in France is 18. Since the law of July 21, 2009, it has been forbidden to sell tobacco to minors under 18.
If you walk into a tobacconist’s shop, you’re sure to see this poster hanging on the walls:
Beware! The French Public Health Code is clear: not only is it forbidden to sell tobacco to minors, but it is also forbidden to offer them a cigarette in a public place!
Can a Minor Use Tobacco?
If you’ve read our article on the legal drinking age in France, you’ll be familiar with the subtlety: the sale of alcohol to minors is forbidden in public places, but consumption in private places cannot be controlled.
It’s the same with tobacco: minors are forbidden to buy cigarettes, but there’s nothing to stop them consuming them.
Is it Possible to Smoke in Public Places?
Today, the smoking ban applies in all enclosed public places, including cafés and restaurants.
The ban could soon be extended, as discussions are underway to ban cigarette smoking in all outdoor public places (regardless of the legal smoking age in France), with the exception of areas specifically dedicated to smokers.
France vs. Europe: How do the French Smoke?
France stands out from its European neighbors thanks to stricter regulations and a sharp decline in tobacco consumption.
The French are Smoking Less and Less
Cigarette consumption in France has fallen significantly in recent decades. In 1970, 44% of French people aged 15 to 64 smoked, compared with just 25% in 2023.
This figure is below the European Union average of around 30%.
This decline is due to a number of factors, including the lowering of the legal smoking age in France and the ban on smoking in public places.
Cigarette Prices in France
In 2023, the average price of a pack of cigarettes in France will be 10 euros. This is one of the highest in Europe.
For example, the average price of a pack of cigarettes is €6.18 in Germany, €5.15 in Austria and €4.53 in Spain.
Stricter Legislation in France than in Neighboring Countries
In France, smoking has been banned in enclosed public places, including bars and nightclubs, since 2007.
The ban on smoking in public places is well respected in France, unlike in neighboring countries such as Austria and Germany, where it’s still possible to find bars and nightclubs that allow smoking indoors (even if it is illegal).
“Vous avez du feu ?” Cigarette Culture in France
The cigarette has long been an icon of French culture, especially in literature and cinema, where it has become a symbol of seduction and sensuality.
Cigarettes in French Cinema
Many classic French films feature famous characters who smoke, such as Jean-Paul Belmondo in À bout de souffle, or Brigitte Bardot in Et Dieu… créa la femme. Cigarettes are often used in these films to create an atmosphere that is both sensual and dangerous.
Some of the most famous lines are :
- “Vous avez du feu ?” (=Got a light?) Jean-Paul Belmondo in À bout de souffle
- “Je n’ai pas de cigarette, mais j’ai une allumette” (= I don’t have a cigarette, but I’ve got a match) Brigitte Bardot in Et Dieu… créa la femme
- “Je fume comme un pompier” (=I smoke like a fireman) Audiard
Cigarettes in French Literature
Cigarettes are also associated with the world of Parisian literary cafés in the mid-20th century, where writers, artists, and intellectuals met.
Cigarettes have long been associated with the image of the dreaming poet, and feature in the verses of many of France’s greatest poets:
- “La cigarette est un petit bâton de feu qui nous brûle les lèvres et le cœur.” (=Cigarettes are little sticks of fire that burn our lips and our hearts.) Charles Baudelaire, Les Fleurs du mal
- “La cigarette est une petite nuée de fumée qui nous enveloppe de mystère.” (=The cigarette is a small cloud of smoke that envelops us in mystery.) Arthur Rimbaud, Illuminations
Et voilà! You know all about cigarettes in France! Long an icon of popular culture, smoking is now strictly regulated. Especially among young people, since the legal smoking age in France has been lowered to 18!
Translated into English by Sacha