Why Do French People Smoke So Much? We Explain


France is one of the most popular countries to visit in the world. Each year, over 200 million people go to France to eat amazing food, see beautiful art and architecture and drink some of the best wine there is. However, many people who go to France also notice one thing… that the French smoke a lot. Why is this?

French people smoke a lot because of a greater cultural acceptance of smoking, lax enforcement of indoor smoking bans, the high number of young people who start smoking and a history of seeing smoking as part of the artistic and cultural scene of the country.

…but that’s just an overview. In order to understand why, and actually if, French people smoke a lot, we need to go into a bit more detail…

Do French People Smoke A Lot?

French people have a reputation for smoking. The cool images of Parisians sat outside cafes drinking red win and smoking cigarettes goes back to the 1920s, if not much further. Even today, many people think that the French smoke a lot. But do they actually?

The average French smoker takes three cigarettes a day. Therefore, it could not be said that the French smoke a lot. However, 26% of people in France regularly smoke tobacco, which is higher than many other Western European countries.

With over a quarter of people in France smoking cigarettes regularly, it would be correct to say that a lot of French people smoke. On the other hand, the quantity that each person in France smokes is quite low – at only around three cigarettes a day. Therefore, it’s not quite correct to say that the French smoke a lot.

How Much Do The French Smoke Compared To Other Countries?

So, we know there are many French people that smoke, and also that the French have a reputation for using cigarettes. However, in order to fully understand if the French smoke a lot we need to compare the amount of French people who smoke to other countries.

With 26% of the population regularly smoking, France is among the Western European countries with the most smokers. However, compared to countries in Eastern Europe such as Poland, Bulgaria and Greece, France has a lot less smokers.

Let’s take a look at the percentage of French smokers and compare that to other countries in Europe. This will give us a better picture of whether the French really do smoke a lot…

Number of French Smokers Compared To Other European Countries

The most obvious comparison to make to find out if French people smoke a lot is to compare the percentage of French people use tobacco to other European countries. Below is a comparison table:

CountryTotal Number of SmokersPercentage of Population That Smoke
France18 million26%
United Kingdom4.9 million12%
Germany23 million28%
Spain8.9 million19%
Italy11.8 million20%
Poland9 million29%
Greece3.7 million37%

As we can see, compared to many countries in Western Europe, France has a lot of smokers. Interestingly though, less people in France smoke than in Germany. France is far from being the country in Western Europe where people smoke the most.

Smoking tobacco is more prevalent in Eastern than Western Europe. We can see that Poland has 3% more smokers than France. Greece has over 10% more smokers than France with one of the highest rates of tobacco use on the continent.

Overall, France has a higher rate of cigarette use than many of its neighbours. However, across Europe, France is not one of the countries that smokes the most.

Number of French Smokers Compared To Other Countries Globally

As well as comparing how many French people take cigarettes to other countries in Europe, in order see if French people really do smoke a lot, we also need to look at the percentage of French smokers against other countries around the world. Below is a comparison table:

CountryTotal Number of SmokersPercentage of Population That Smoke
France18 million26%
America30 million9%
China300 million21%
India267 million29%
Turkey26 million31%
Brazil19 million9.3%

Compared to many other countries around the world, French people do not smoke a lot. India and Turkey both have a significantly higher percentages of tobacco users. Interestingly, overall, China has a much lower percentage of people that smoke. However, almost half of all the men in China smoke, when very few women do. This pulls down the overall percentage of smokers across the country. It would actually be correct to say that Chinese men smoke much more than the French.

There are countries around the world where people smoke less than French people do on average. These include America and Brazil, both of which have over 10% less smokers than France.

Globally, France has a significant rate of tobacco use, but it is far from the country in the world where the most people smoke.

Do French Women Smoke A Lot?

Another stereotype is that women in France smoke a lot. In many countries, the number of men who use tobacco is significantly higher than the number of women. French women have a reputation for smoking heavily, but is this actually correct?

Around 20% of women in France are smokers. On average, women who smoke in France take three cigarettes a day. Although it would be said that many women in France smoke, the low quantities of cigarettes taken on average means that French women do not smoke a lot.

The best way to determine if French women actually smoke a lot is to compare how much they smoke to women in other countries…

Number of French Women That Smoke Compared To Other European Countries

The first step we need to take in order to see if French women actually smoke a lot is to compare the percentage of French women who use tobacco to other countries in Europe. Below is a comparison table:

CountryNumber of Women SmokersPercentage of Women That Smoke
France18 million20%
Germany22.4 million27%
Spain12 million26%
Italy10 million17%
Poland9 million24%
Greece3 million30%

As we can see, compared to other countries in Europe, French women actually smoke less. Germany, Spain, Poland, and Greece all have a higher percentage of women that smoke.

Number of French Women That Smoke Compared To Other Countries Globally

As well as looking at how much French women smoke compared to other countries in Europe, in order to fully understand if French women actually smoke a lot of cigarettes, we also need to compare the percentage to other countries around the world. Below is a comparison table:

CountryTotal Number of SmokersPercentage of Population That Smoke
France18 million20%
America40 million12%
China28 million2%
India12.1 million0.86%
Turkey11 million13%
Brazil19 million7%

When comparing the percentage of French women that smoke to other major countries around the world, it is clear that women is France use tobacco at a much higher rate. Almost every other major country in the world has a lower percentage of female smokers.

Why Do French Women Smoke So Much?

As we’ve said, French women have long had a reputation for smoking cigarettes. This differs to many countries around the world where women smoke much less than men. A key question we need to ask regarding female smokers in France is why do so many women in the country use tobacco? There are three main reasons:

  • Cultural acceptance of female smokers in France.
  • Lax implementation of indoor smoking
  • Early age in which people begin smoking

Let’s take a quick look at each of these…

Cultural Acceptance of Female Smokers In France.

A first reason why many women in France smoke is because it more culturally acceptable. In many countries, is it not socially acceptable for women to smoke. Cigarette use by women can be considered even taboo in many parts of the world.

France has a long history of feminism and female emancipation. As a result, there is no social view against women smoking. Therefore, women who choose to smoke can do so without stigma.

Lax Implementation Of Indoor Smoking

A second reason why many women in France use tobacco is because of the lax implementation of indoor smoking bans in France.

In 2007, France introduced a law banning smoking inside public spaces. This includes cafés, restaurants, theatres, and cinemas. However, across France, these laws are often unevenly enforced. Many places in France actually do allow people to smoke indoors, even if it is against the law.

This lax enforcement of smoking laws in France makes it easier for all people, women included, to smoke. It removes the need to go outside, often in cold weather, to smoke. It also increases social smoking and makes it harder for people who already use tobacco to quit.

Early Age In Which People Begin Smoking

A third reason why many women smoke in France is because of the high percentage of young people who begin smoking in the country. The prevalence of smoking among teenagers in France means people begin smoking, and becoming addicted to tobacco, from a young age. This affects both men and women but is a key reason why smoking is a major issue across France.

Why Do So Many French Teenagers Smoke?

Another reputation many people have of France is that lots of young people smoke. In lots of countries around the world smoking is seen as something done more by older people. So, do French teenagers actually smoke a lot?

With 38% of teenagers in France reporting to have smoked in the last 30 days, the country has a significant issue with young people using tobacco. There are two main reasons for this:

  • Availability of cigarettes
  • A wider cultural acceptance of smoking

Let’s look at each of these in-turn…

Availability Of Cigarettes

A key reason why teenagers in France smoke is because they are able to get cigarettes. Although the legal age to buy tobacco in France is 18, and this is often strictly enforced. However, young people can often find ways around this law, and it means they can have access to cigarettes. As a result, more teenagers in France smoke.

A Wider Cultural Acceptance of Smoking

A second reason why many teenagers in France smoke is a wider cultural acceptance of smoking. Although recently there has been a change in public attitudes to smoking in France, there are still many people who see little or no issue in using tobacco. Cigarette use in France has a long historical association with art and culture and this connection has not completely been broken. The way many French people perceive smoking makes it appealing for teenagers.

Is Smoking Still Socially Acceptable In France?

A final point we need to consider when discussing the amount that French people smoke is if smoking is socially acceptable in France?

Smoking in France is more socially acceptable than in many other parts of Western Europe. However, the introduction of indoor smoking bans, anti-smoking campaigns and an increased awareness of the negative health affects of smoking means it is becoming less tolerated in France.

Although smoking is still widely accepted in France, the government is trying to reduce the number of smokers in the country. Smoking kills around 200 people a day in France, and this takes a major toll on the country’s health system. The use of tobacco in France is also decreasing year-on-year, as people become better aware of the major health risks of smoking.

Sources

Duncan

Duncan is the founder of Global Affairs Explained. With a fascination for international relations. global events, history and geo-politics, Duncan established Global Affairs Explained to provide concise guides and original research on current and historical events.

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