He was probably about 12 years old. Darting from table to table in the courtyard of the restaurant where I was having lunch. I noticed he would dart off before the waiter came outside to deliver an order to a table.
At first, I thought he was stealing the tips left by customers as they vacated their tables. But it wasn’t until he was lighting up a half-smoked cigarette butt that I realised he had been raiding the ash trays.
I have seen this before in Mumbai and Jakarta where collection and repurposing for sale of discarded, partially-smoked cigarettes is a source of income for those living on the streets.
The surprise for me was that this was in downtown Paris, and they were clearly stealing the butts to smoke and not to sell-on. There was nothing exceptional about the young boy and his mates. So, I was left wondering what drew these boys to smoking the remnants of someone else’s used cigarette. Of course, I could dismiss it as just kids playing-up, but I don’t.
In Australia, we have done a lot to remove the positive imagery and social acceptability of smoking. The high prices of tobacco products from taxation have made it very difficult for young people to regularly access tobacco.Professor Andrew Wilson
To me, it was a reminder that it wouldn’t take much to allow a new generation of smokers to develop. In Australia, we have done a lot to remove the positive imagery and social acceptability of smoking. The high prices of tobacco products from taxation have made it very difficult for young people to regularly access tobacco. Smoking commencement is at an all-time low. Smoking prevalence in France remains moderately high at – officially – 26 per cent. Incredibly, the smoking prevalence at age 17 years is 25 per cent!
France now has plain packaging, higher taxes, some indoor smoking restrictions, and the government reported in 2018 that a million fewer people smoked. Smoking remains publicly common but nothing like I remembered even a decade ago. Discussions with friends and colleagues revealed some interesting control issues like the lack of enforcement of a range of regulations like selling to minors.
However, a new phenomenon was the high visibility of the vapers, sending clouds around themselves and passers-by in the cold winter air. Vapes containing nicotine are legally available, and they are the most preferred nicotine replacement in treatment programs.
Providing Australia maintains its ban on both nicotine-containing vape products and the sale of vape products (nicotine and non-nicotine) to those under 18 years, it will be an unfortunate natural experiment as to whether we see a new generation of nicotine-dependent youth in countries that don’t, such as France
In this case, I am glad Australia is the control arm of the experiment!