Tabac in Paris.Photo: Flickr.com/:mrMark:

Tabac in Paris.
Photo: Flickr.com/:mrMark:

It has become expensive to buy cigarettes in France. Now, a new market for electronic cigarettes is taking off.

PARIS. – It’s a rainy French afternoon. Imagine a woman, legs crossed and cigarette lit. Dressed in black, she is a classic example of Parisian charm as she elegantly ashes into the tray next to her café crème. But could all of this be changing, not with the push of a button, but with the click of a cartridge?

The electronic cigarette (or e-cigarette) is becoming increasingly popular in Paris. Stores selling them are opening everywhere. You can spot three of them within a five-minute walk at the edge of The Marais.

Enough to burn

At Clopinette, an e-cigarette ‘boutique’ located near Réaumur-Sebastopol, the queue is long most mornings. The man behind the counter says that they have been open for nearly a year and a half. “Our clients just keep coming back, week after week,” he says.

They sell e-cigarettes and their cartridges. The main “cigarette,” a small black tube, costs between €70-90. The user inhales, vaporizing a cartridge of glycerol-based liquid. This liquid needs to be replaced, as does another cartridge that gives flavors like strawberry or peach to the vapor. These, of course, cost extra.

Down the street, two more e-cigarette boutiques are opening. One claims more selection, the other claims better prices. The long-time clerk at Clopinette doesn’t seem worried; “our customers are loyal,” he claims, “perhaps as loyal as they were to their favorite brand of regular tobacco.” He adds, “but you’re right, there are many more people entering our market. What can we say, it’s taking off.”

Unlucky strike

While they aren’t proven to be better for your health, e-cigarettes can psychologically stop you from lighting up.

Beatrice Sabaté is a French clinical psychologist with over 15 years of experience. She says e-cigarettes can simply “occupy your mind” if you crave a smoke, explaining, “just the fact that you hold it between your fingers mimics the way you smoke a real cigarette, but it doesn’t address why you smoke and how you justify it mentally to yourself. That’s where the key to quitting is. This doesn’t really get at that.”

In October 2012, the Government raised taxes on cigarettes to raise state revenues. A pack of normal cigarettes now costs €6.10 in France, with higher end brands going for €7.

In 2012, a pack of cigarettes in France cost more than in Spain, Germany, Belgium, Italy and Luxembourg. Prices range in these countries between €4.25 and €5.16. However, the UK still has the most expensive habit at €9.35 (£7.47) a pack.

The price rise is a good way to make people kick the habit domestically.

Olivier is 24. On the copper-stained metro platform of Arts et Métiers he puffs on an e-cigarette. He tells me, “the price of cigarettes went way up. I was spending too much. I couldn’t go on finishing a pack everyday.” He now spends between €15-20 per week on cartridges. “I was spending much more when I smoked Camels,” he says.

The last significant drop in French smokers was prompted by a price rise between 2002 and 2004. This one should create a similar wave of people intending to quit.

Quitting smoking is a top New Year’s resolution. Expect more e-cigarette boutiques to open in Paris. Some French people will toast to a year without cigarettes on New Year’s Eve, reaching for their electronic substitute. But these devices have yet to have any proven health benefits compared to actual tobacco.

For users of the e-cigarette, there could be more smoke than light at the end of the tunnel.