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Is France's New Anti-Smoking Campaign Having an Impact?


France has launched an aggressive anti-smoking campaign that uses violent imagery and shocking statistics to scare smokers into quitting. The French government hopes to reverse worrying statistics, which show little change in French smoking habits in recent years.

The television commercial is chillingly simple. It shows the back of an emaciated man, his ribs sticking out and his stick-like arms resting on his knees.

The man's name is Richard Gourlain, and according to the commercial, he began smoking when he was 14 years old. The shots show him days before his death. He is 49-years-old and weighs less than 35 kilograms.

Sponsored by France's National Committee Against Tobacco, the advertisement began airing this week. It marks a new government initiative to shock and frighten the French into doing something they don't seem to want to do: quit smoking.

Cigarette consumption in France has remained about the same since 1997. According to government statistics, the number of female smokers is rising and 37 percent of French teenagers smoke. In fact, a survey published this spring shows more young people smoke in France than in any other European country. About 60,000 French die from smoking-related diseases each year.

In June, the anti-smoking committee aired another dramatic commercial that sparked a small panic. The advertisement announced traces of a toxic product, and a telephone number to call for help. An estimated 900,000 French called the number, to discover the product in question was tobacco.

The campaign may be having an effect on smokers like 34-year-old Walid Ben Miloud, who was puffing on a cigarette in downtown Paris this week, as he waited for a friend.

Mr. Ben Miloud said he began smoking at 14-years-old and has been trying to quit for years. He has seen the commercials. Maybe, he said, they will force him to stop.

But 14-year-old Marie Orgeret was unimpressed by the anti-smoking ads. Marie said she began smoking three years ago and has no intention of quitting.

However, Marie's mother, Helene de Pericaut, praised the new campaign. "Still," she said, "the French government must launch a larger information and education campaign against smoking."

Critics say restrictions against smoking in public places are often not enforced. Others say that the state is not fully committed to ending smoking. They point out that, even though it finances anti-tobacco campaigns, the state also receives an estimated $10 million in tobacco taxes.

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