La Jonquera, the paradise of French smokers

Starting next year, La Jonquera will have a total of 17 tobacconists, ten more than there are currently between the town center and the commercial district of Els Límits, whose majority clientele is French.

Thomas Osborne
Thomas Osborne
03 December 2022 Saturday 21:41
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La Jonquera, the paradise of French smokers

Starting next year, La Jonquera will have a total of 17 tobacconists, ten more than there are currently between the town center and the commercial district of Els Límits, whose majority clientele is French.

The profile of the French is very frequent when buying tobacco in the tobacconists of the border town given that a pack of cigarettes in France is worth twice as much as in Spain.

Both the Jonquera Town Hall and the Girona Estanquers Gremi clearly see this increase in the number of tobacconists as “disproportionate” and “unjustified”. Both have presented allegations that, for the moment, have not been answered.

The convener of these new licenses is the Ministry of Finance and Public Function, which on October 28 began the first public auction of state tobacco and stamp outlets for the granting of 203 licenses throughout Spain. It had been twenty years since the last call.

The resolution states that the areas have been selected "taking into account commercial criteria, profitability, public service, distances between outlets and population."

Bidders had until November 17 to present their offers, and the bids for the licenses in La Jonquera are dizzying: the prices offered range between five and seven million euros per tobacconist.

To contextualize these data, take the case of the border neighborhood of Behobia, in Irun, where a maximum of 280,000 euros have been paid, or Les (Val d'Aran), where the highest bidder paid 500,000 euros. It should also be noted that in the latter case neither the inhabitants of the French towns close to Les nor the communications are comparable to those enjoyed by La Jonquera, with a motorway linking it to France and important populated areas such as Perpignan, Narbonne or Béziers in a close radius.

Even so, these are figures that not even the Gremi d'Estanquers de Girona can explain. "These are excessive prices, it is not understood that there is such an abysmal difference with other areas," says Joaquim Vidal, the entity's lawyer.

At the moment, the amount of the bids is known, but not who is behind them. Once the list of successful bidders is published, they will have ten days to guarantee that they meet the auction conditions and one more month to make the deposit. We will have to see if the banks guarantee the loans.

The call for auction is not liked by the City Council, which considers the resolution lacking any justification. The mayoress, Sònia Martínez, recalls in the statement of allegations presented to the Undersecretary of Finance and Public Function that there is no technical report "that substantiates the existence of a growing demand for tobacco consumption in the municipality" and that forces an increase in a 170% concessions.

The growth, says the mayoress, "is clearly unjustified for a population that does not exceed 3,500 registered inhabitants."

Sònia Martínez points out that the State does not argue in its resolution that the seven current outlets are insufficient to meet the demand, nor does it reason why there should be ten new concessions.

He also does not understand why a maximum distance lower than the ordinary has been set with respect to educational centers and other existing tobacco sales premises: from 150 meters to only 25. This requirement also occurs at other border posts such as Les and Urdax ( Navarre). "A detriment," says Martínez, "for the children and young adolescents of La Jonquera."

This "insignificant distance" has also been the subject of allegations by the Gremi d'Estanquers de Girona. “No legal provision should, nor can, except the distance with the educational centers. It is an attack on public health and the protection of minors ”, collects David Juanhuix, president of the union, in his letter.

The letter adds that the only criterion of those established in its bases that the State has taken into account to promote these ten new licenses is profitability: the tax and price differential with respect to France benefits the border municipalities. However, "the State cannot give legal certainty to the participants in the auction that this differential will continue to be maintained," they point out in the letter.

The entity's lawyer, Joaquim Vidal, says that the price could be a "conjunctural fact", since if the EU decides to set similar taxes for all countries, "this could be ruin for the vendors who are in those areas and those who get the adjudication”.

The merchants have the first weekends of the month marked in red, when many French people cross the border to buy tobacco, but also other much more expensive products in their country, such as alcohol. "More than a hundred French buses have come in one day, they arrive with empty suitcases and leave loaded," they explain in a Els Límits store. “With so many tobacconists, now people will spread out more”, he adds.

The few tobacconists who speak recognize that it will affect them. "Although we will see in what proportion," says an employee from the door of a business in Els Límits. “It is a contradiction; Health urges people to quit smoking and see what they do... The people who come to buy here are who they are, I don't think they will create a new public, there will be no cake for everyone”, affirms another tobacconist.

Customers also view with "disbelief" that so many new licenses are allowed. “This is going to be a catastrophe for the tobacco stalls in the south of France,” says Iaouadan, who used to come down from Perpignan every month to buy tobacco.

It pays off, even adding up mileage and gas. For two cartons he has paid 82 euros. "In France it would be 210 euros," he says. He believes that tobacco trafficking can grow. "They buy it in Andorra where it is even cheaper than in Spain and they sell it in stores or bars," he explains.