13 million adults smoke on a daily basis in France and according to Health Minister Marisol Touraine, “the number of smokers is growing, especially among young people”.
On Thursday she announced that under proposed new laws, cigarette packets will be “the same shape, same size, same colour, same typeset”, in the hope that smoking will become less attractive especially to youngsters.
France has one of the highest rates of under-16s smoking in Europe and, in addition to the plain packaging measures, Touraine also announced that smoking would be banned in playgrounds and in cars with passengers under 12.
"For the first time in France we have a national programme which is comprehensive and strong, and includes plain packaging....We think this is a very good way to help young people not to start smoking." said Yves Martinet, president of the French organisation CNCT (National Committee Against Smoking).
The laws would be based on similar measures introduced in 2012 in Australia and Martinet suggests the move contributed to a reduction in cigarette consumption there.
"We have just the Australian experience and it’s a bit short, one and a half years. But the number of people who smoke in Australia dropped by bit more than 3% over last year . But you have to compare what can be compared and right now in France you have 30% of young children between 15 and 17 who smoke while in Australia it’s below 15%."
However, Celine Audibert of the French tobacco firm Seita, a subsidiary of Imperial Tobacco, said "It's based on the Australian experience which, more than a failure, was a complete fiasco".
In Australia all cigarettes must be sold in identical, olive-brown packets bearing the same typeface which are largely covered with graphic health warnings.
Unlike Australia, however, French brands will remain on the packets "but limited to a very discreet and defined size, always on the same place on the packet," according to the plan.
European Union laws already force tobacco firms to cover 65 percent of the packaging with health warnings.
Touraine also announced that electronic cigarettes are to be banned in certain public places.
E-cigarettes have taken off in France, with statistics published by the French Observatory for Drugs and Addiction (OFDT) estimating that 18 percent of French people between the age of 15 and 75 had tried them.
Touraine acknowledged that "it's better to vape than to smoke" but stressed: "For a young person who has never smoked, an electronic cigarette can become a way into smoking."
E-cigarettes will be banned in locations where young people gather such as schools, as well as on public transport and in enclosed workspaces.
In addition, the advertising of e-cigarettes is to be restricted then banned completely from May 2016 except at the point of sale and in trade publications.
The Health Minister stated that tobacco kills 73,000 people every year in France.