...Continued from page 1

Where There's Smoke There's Taxes

A surprise amendment to the government's current Social Security legislation - a deputy's proposal to raise tobacco taxes - has alarmed tobacco product retailers and the tax collectors at Bercy.

The cigarette manufacturers, ever alert to any danger to sales, quickly announced that they would absorb any additional tax. This had the effect of lifting the lid on Pandora's box.

The additional tax would raise the taxes on cigarettes from 76 to 78 percent of their retail price. This would somehow translate into an 11 percent increase for the consumer. The health authorities would welcome this. The tax authorities would not, for two reasons.

If people quit smoking, they take in less money. If people don't quit smoking, but switch to cheaper tobacco products, the tax collector also gets less money.

This happened in 1997 after another over-proportionate tax hike; consumers changed their brands or types, and Bercy's taxmen 'lost' 2.8 billion francs in tax revenues.

If the delicate balance between consumption, taxes and public health were not enough to worry about, there are two other factors to consider.

The state itself owns the monopoly distributor, 'Seita' - which is also a cigarette manufacturer, and there are 35,000 small businesses - the tabacs - which are dependent on sales of tobacco products for their livelihood.

The 'PACs' and the 'Monoparents'

As it promised, the majority in the government came back with its 'PACs' legislation, and this resulted in one session in the National Assembly last week which ran to 04:00 after a conservative legislator used his constitutional right to say his piece non-stop.

The 'PAC' is a legislative package which would fill a lot of legal holes left open by irregular - for France - family situations. Other - mostly northern - European countries have moved ahead further and faster than France, but many conservatives would like to see France remain as it is rather than be socially progressive.

However, no part of the 'PAC' package addresses the problems of what the Secours Catholique - a family aid organization - calls the 'monoparent.' Aid groups in general say half their clients are composed of single-parent families; although these total only 14 percent of the population in France as a whole.

They say that the problem is second only to unemployment as a cause of poverty. Secours Catholique also says a major factor accelerating poverty, is the failure of public services to aid those entitled to benefits; for purely administrative reasons.

Every second family is entitled to some aid - such as the standard family allowance for children - but if this is refused or delayed, it can have catastrophic results. [A poster for Secours Catholique is on this week's Poster page II.]

Dora Maar Sale Results

The first part of the auction of Dora Maar's Picasso collection seemed to be swallowed by Paris without much notice, but for the world's art folk, it was standing-room-only. The total take has been reported as 213 million francs - about 38 million dollars. The painting 'La Femme Qui Pleure' fetched 41 million francs and the pencil sketch 'Dora aux Cheveux Défaits' brought 5.5 million.

Meanwhile, the Musée d'Orsay has just acquired its 'Mona Lisa,' in the form of Manet's 'Berthe Morisot au Bouquette de Violettes.' The painting, done in 1872, was purchased by the state from the descendants of Berthe Morisot for 80 million francs. Last seen in public 15 years ago, the painting is now on view at the Musée d'Orsay.

'Winter' Sports News

Next year, the 89th Tour de France will follow a 'classic' route, by remaining entirely within the country; from 3. July to 25. July 1999.

This year's scandal-plagued 'Tour' really upset sportsfans everywhere, coming as it did after the largely successful World Cup championships. Pro-sports figure, Jean-Claude Killy, is nowphoto: louvre, cote art deco running the bike tour. The new anti-dope measures haven't been fully decided upon yet, but they will be draconian.

Ocean Racing gets off to a big start today with 6th edition of the 'Route du Rhum,' the single-handed non-stop trophy dash from Saint-Malo to Point-à-Pitre on Guadaloupe - over 6,573 kms of Atlantic Ocean in winter.

The passage at the western end of the Louvre, from Rivoli to the Cour Napoléon.

In the 'old' days, the racing ships left shore and nothing much other than crackly radio reports were heard for the duration of the two-week race. These days, the contestants are equipped with mini-TV-cameras and satellite broadcasting, so they'll be on the nightly news; to the eternal joy of their sponsors.

The first edition was run in 1978 and was won by Mike Birch in a final sprint. This year, Mike Birch is again one of the 35 racers, but he's in it for the fun. This 'fun' is running a full-tilt, racing sailboat, mostly standing up 24 hours a day, across a big ocean. Watch for it.

Proper Winter Sports do not seem to have gotten underway yet. I direct you therefore to the winter sports Web site, which is sponsored by Miko ice cream. It contains a lot of useful information in French and English about weather, snow, equipment, accommodations, resorts and facilities as well as about the sponsor's ice cream; all of which are available in France's more vertical areas.

As far as this type of 'sport' is concerned, I have always preferred getting no closer to cold and snow than my letterbox in the entry hall downstairs. Luckily I can get some tropical fruit drinks, complete with warm-looking vacationing polar bears eating ice cream on their labels, just across the street.

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