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A woman smokes a cigarette in this illustration picture taken in Paris, October 8, 2014. REUTERS/Christian Hartmann

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PARIS (Reuters) - France will raise the price of cigarettes to 10 euros (£8.8) a pack within three years, the health minister said on Thursday, confirming a strategy that will push tobacco costs to among the highest in Europe.

At present, a packet of 20 cigarettes costs roughly 7 euros in France, well below the roughly 10 euros charged in Britain and Ireland.

"France is one of the slowest learners in the world on smoking," the minister, Agnes Buzyn, said. "Big price rises will be needed to have an impact on public health."

Buzyn told RTL radio station that smoking rates in Britain had dropped from around 30 percent to 20 percent over the past decade as the government pursued a policy of hefty price hikes, while the smoking rate was still around 30 percent in France.

The new government of centrist President Emmanuel Macron has announced several high-profile healthcare targets including the extension of compulsory vaccination, fuller public cover of the costs of dental care and eye glasses, and tobacco tax hikes.

World Health Organisation figures say the number of French smokers is roughly 50 percent higher than in Britain, where 19 percent of adults, or about one in five, smoke.

(Reporting by Brian Love; Editing by Sudip Kar-Gupta and Catherine Evans)

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