The French tabac is a cultural institution, a small tobacconist often attached to a bar or café that for generations has provided Gallic men and women with their daily nicotine fix.
Now, a small group of tabacs are being enlisted to bridge the gap between fiat and virtual currency by selling bitcoin for cash over the counter to customers across France.
As Reuters reports, the rollout began in tobacco shops around Paris. The arrangement relies on a deal made between blockchain company Keplerk and cash-register software providers, which gives tabac owners the option of selling vouchers that are then redeemable for bitcoin through the Keplerk website.
According to French news site Capital.fr, vouchers can be bought in units of 50, 100, or 250 euros, with Keplerk taking a commission of 7 percent on each voucher sold, of which 1.25 percent is given to the tabac.
A list published on the Keplerk website lists 30 available locations, mostly concentrated in Paris and the surrounding suburbs, but also extending to cities like Nantes, Roquefort, and Tolouse.
Keplerk cofounder Adil Zakhar told the news agency that the company plans to extend the scheme to around 6,500 tabacs by February. If it can be rolled out at scale, the project would make a significant impact on the accessibility of bitcoin in France, since tabacs form a nationally distributed network with a familiar and highly trusted brand.
Cigarette smoking has long been part of the French self-image; 27 percent of French adults smoke, compared to around 14 percent in the U.S. and 15 percent in the U.K. Yet as in many other parts of the world, rates of smoking are falling as younger generations move away from tobacco products, sometimes replacing them with e-cigarettes or choosing not to consume nicotine at all.
As a result, tabacs have seen their revenues decline, and are increasingly seeking to diversify their income streams by providing other services like vouchers or money transfer.
Although the premiums involved in buying bitcoin through Keplerk’s system will likely dissuade serious crypto users, the ease of purchase and ready availability of outlets could prove to be an appealing entry point for everyday consumers looking to dabble in crypto.