At the end of high school, Mathis hastens to escape from the crowd of students. With his group of friends, they always meet up a little further away, near the gates of the neighboring park. Here they can talk more quietly, away from the clouds of smoke. “I can’t stand the smell of tobacco, it disgusts me. I’ve never tasted it and I don’t plan to take the plunge one day,” says the 16-year-old. Among young French people, Mathis is no exception. In 2022, less than one in two 17-year-olds (46.5%) had tried tobacco, compared to 59% in 2017 and 77.6% in 2000. The share of those who smoke daily also shows a drastic reduction ( 15.6% in 2022 compared to 25.1% in 2017).
This spectacular decline is to be credited to the measures to combat smoking put in place since the Évin law of 1991. Advertising regulation, ban on smoking in public spaces, medical prevention plans, etc. These public policies have resulted in what specialists call “a denormalization of tobacco”. The price also contributed a lot. In 2024, a pack costs 11 euros, compared to 3.20 euros in 2000. So with his 10 euros of pocket money per week, Mathis “much prefers to preserve (his) lungs to play sports”. He does not hesitate to remind those who light a cigarette near him of the harmful effects of tobacco.
Beyond groups of friends, family stories also play a role in this awareness. “Many have seen their parents try to quit, some have loved ones who have died from cancers linked to smoking,” explains Ivana Obradovic, deputy director of the French Observatory of Drugs and Addictive Tendencies (OFDT). The Covid-19 pandemic was added: deprived of space for socialization, young people had fewer temptations to try cigarettes. For several months, parties were suspended, as was face-to-face school and, with it, the famous smoke breaks. “Covid has accelerated the decline dynamic already underway,” explains Ivana Obradovic.
Vaping and out of date
The new situation also comes from the appearance of e-cigarettes, which enter into direct competition with tobacco. Among young people, daily use of these electronic cigarettes has tripled in ten years and now concerns 6.2% of adolescents. “Its harmful effects remain unknown but cannot be worse than those of tobacco,” explains psychiatrist and addictologist Alexandre Baguet. Rejected in this way, “cigarettes become obsolete,” continues the doctor. Youth have embraced this change of mindset. The class of a Clint Eastwood with a cigar in his mouth or the chic of an Audrey Hepburn with her cigarette holder belong to the past.