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On Wednesday November 21, Fédération des Buralistes, France’s tobacco federation reported that they received permission to sell Bitcoin in tobacco stores from January 2019. This was made possible because the tobacco federation teamed up with KeplerK, a French cryptocurrency wallet. It will mean that 4000 tobacco shops will be able to sell Bitcoin vouchers with the value of 50, 100, or 250 euros. It was a French radio network that first reported the issue, the network is named Europe 1.
Europe 1 inadvertently caused some controversy when they claimed that the French Prudential Supervision and Resolution Authority (ACPR), which is connected to France’s Central Bank, had offered their support for the project. The Bank of France disputed these claims, saying they did not offer their backing for the project.
A press release issued today by Autorite des Marches Financiers (AMF) reiterates this point that the project is not backed by France’s Central Bank. The press release also warns people of the potential risks of Bitcoin; for example, it states that Bitcoin is highly volatile, and also able to be pirated, adding that the move is not backed by any French authority.
France’s Central Bank is likely trying to distance itself from this for a number of reasons. Firstly, although tobacco products have long been used in France, and one could argue they form an important part of French history and culture, they are falling out of favor. Between 25-30% of adults in France smoke every day, meaning this venture could see a huge increase in Bitcoin usage in France, with so many people walking into tobacco shops daily. France’s Central Bank is probably anticipating a huge increase in Bitcoin investing as a result of this move and want to distance itself from any negative press it may generate.
Firstly, smoking is becoming less attractive to mix with business. Everyone now knows it causes a litany of health problems, and so businesses have a vested interest in not appearing to promote something which is considered unhealthy. Secondly, Bitcoin can be volatile and risky. By offering Bitcoin vouchers in Tobacco shops, people who know very little about Bitcoin may feel more comfortable investing because they believe it is now backed by an industry they are comfortable with, or maybe even trust. This has the potential for people to make some bad financial decisions France’s Central Bank don’t want to be caught up in or blamed for.
Another aspect of this issue and a somewhat controversial one is the nature of addiction and impulsivity. Tobacco shops only really sell tobacco and bus tickets in some countries. If you are going to a tobacco shop, you’re probably buying cigarettes, and you’re more than likely addicted to them. Smokers are already engaging in a high-risk behavior, so it almost seems exploitative to try and introduce to them another potentially risky behavior.