TamTam Books News

Wednesday, August 31, 2005:

This is from The London Times:

September 01, 2005

History goes up in smoke as French stop making Gauloises
From Charles Bremner in Paris

THE pop singer France Gall will have to change the lyrics to one of her old hits, Made in France, which celebrates all things Gallic: l’accordéon, les Gauloises, la pétanque . . .
The accordion and pétanque, or boules, are still going strong, but yesterday France made its last Gauloise cigarette. The company’s owners have switched ouput of its pungent brown tobacco products from Lille to Alicante.

Altadis, the Franco-Spanish company that took over Seita, the French tobacco monopoly, in 1999, blamed the decline in smoking that has especially hit the market for acrid cigarettes brunes in France. More are now smoked in Spain as France has started paying heed to fierce official health campaigns, no-smoking rules and punitive rises in tobacco tax.

The famous blue packets of Gauloises and Gitanes, its sister marque, will still be on sale in France, but the surviving fans of la clope française (the French fag) were spluttering at the idea of their beloved brunes coming in from Spain. “Even the great symbols of national identity are now being offshored,” Le Figaro lamented. “The mythical brown Gauloise, which never left the lips of [Jacques] Prévert and [Serge] Gainsbourg, will from now on be imported from Spain.”

The poet-screenwriter and the composer-singer were among 20th-century artists and intellectuals who seemed always to be wreathed in the blue Gauloises or Gitanes smoke that was perhaps the most evocative symbol of France. For Sartre, de Gaulle, Malraux and Sagan, smoking the cigarettes was an art and an aid to reflection.

In God is a Havana Smoker, in which Gainsbourg duetted with Catherine Deneuve, she sang: “You are just a Gitanes smoker. I want to see the last one shining deep in my eyes.”

Gauloises and Gitanes have been around since 1910. The tobacco monopoly, set up by Napoleon Bonaparte to finance his wars, had invented a little paper-covered cigar and coined the name cigarette.

But when France’s US liberators arrived in 1944, people took to the sweeter cigarettes blondes that the GIs handed out and used as currency. “Blonde” American-style Gauloises and Gitanes went on the market in 1974 and are still to be made in France. Farmers in the southwest used to grow the tobacco for the brown cigarettes but since the 1980s most of it has come from Greece and Turkey.

The Lille factory’s closure has upset trade unions and politicians in the area who have been fighting for two years to keep it open. The workers held a farewell barbecue, and Martine Aubry, the city’s Socialist Mayor, said: “The closure of the oldest industrial enterprise in Lille — and one of its most modern — is a real scandal.”

The factory had been making 12 billion cigarettes a year. Altadis said that the market for Gauloises and Gitanes had shrunk faster in France than in Spain, which consumes 70 per cent of cigarettes brunes under the brand Ducados. “That is why, confronted with over- capacity of production, we chose Spain,” a spokesman said. Only 10 per cent of French smokers still smoke Gauloises or Gitanes. Contrary to legend, these are less likely to be Paris intellectuals than older working-class men

Tosh // 7:59 PM

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