Antismoking Movement in France

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Antismoking Movement in France

There has been an antitobacco movement in France ever since tobacco was first introduced into the country in the middle of the sixteenth century. Among those individuals who opposed its use were Louis XIV, his personal doctor Fagon, the prelate Bishop Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet, the writer Balzac, and the statesman Charles-Maurice de Talleyrand, all of whom spoke out against its dangers. Their point of view was, in turn or simultaneously, moralistic, religious, or social. Balzac claimed that tobacco "infests the social state" (1839); a journalist from the period wrote that it is "a fashion that nicely darkens your teeth, perfumes and softens your breath, and makes your mouth look like a chimney" (Journal 1807). Despite such strong objections to the substance, tobacco use continued to be popular.

At the time, however, there was little scientific understanding of the effects of tobacco, so the warnings did not carry much weight. In the early 1800s, the French chemist Louis-Nicolas Vauquelin extracted a "potent, volatile, and colorless substance" from tobacco which he named "essence de tabac." The substance was later named "nicotine" after Jean Nicot, the French ambassador to Portugal who first brought tobacco into France. Nonetheless, tobacco continued to be popular among the French people in the form of pipes, cigars, and, soon after, cigarettes. This democratization of use began to worry those interested in public health.

The first antitobacco association dates back to the Second Empire (1852–1870). It brought together some one hundred people, all aiming to prove that tobacco abuse played a role in weakening family ties and harming the moral interests of society. Among these hundred or so pioneers were not only important figures in the world of science, such as the French chemist and microbiologist Louis Pasteur, but also ordinary doctors and teachers. In fact, the antitobacco movement must be seen as part of a larger trend, that of promoting healthy living to regenerate the French population. At the end of the nineteenth century, the association supported a law that would protect minors and ban smoking in army barracks, on public transportation, and in post offices. But the State, which received close to 10 percent of its revenue from tobacco sales, did not respond to their demands.

Antitobacco Pioneer Émile Decroix (1821–1901)

A n ardent and original mind anxious about social progress, Émile Decroix, who served as a veterinarian in the Imperial Army, made the double commitment during the campaign of Morocco in 1859 to propagate the use of horse meat for human consumption and to fight the use of tobacco. Appointed to the National Guard upon his return to Paris and honored with the Knight's Cross of the Legion of Honor, Decroix enjoyed sufficient authority to found a committee for the propagation of the consumption of horse meat. Then, in 1868, he convinced his colleagues on the committee to take on a new mission, this time against tobacco. In both of these endeavors, Decroix believed that he was both enlightening the people about health and morality and giving them the means to satisfy their basic needs.

Prior to his death Decroix wrote many books and articles against tobacco use. To give more momentum to his cause, In 1877 he founded the French Association Against Tobacco Abuse, which attempted to promote instructional campaigns, especially for the youth in schools, and also lobbied with the authorities. Due to lack of funding, the association shut down at the beginning of the twentieth century.

It was not until the 1950s, after revelations from America and Britain about the harmful effects of cigarette smoke on human lungs, that a new movement took off. The Right to Clean Air National Committee, a nongovernmental organization, was founded in 1959; it became the National Anti-Tobacco Committee in 1968, and in 1977 the group was formally recognized by the government, allowing it to receive state subsidies and have legal standing. The State finally acknowledged tobacco's risk to public health by passing a law proposed by Health Minister Simone Veil in 1976. This new law limited the amount of tobacco advertising and required disclosure of tar and nicotine levels on cigarette packs. Additionally, the National Committee for Health and Education launched national antismoking multimedia campaigns via newspapers, posters, radio, and television.

Finally, in 1991, the Evin law was passed. It outlawed all protobacco propaganda in all forms of media—press, radio, and television; restricted considerably the smoking sections in public areas; and triggered a huge rise in cigarette prices when the State raised taxes and the manufacturers raised prices accordingly. The Evin Law is one of the most restrictive in Europe. However, the law has not been strictly enforced. Many lawsuits have been brought against violators and cigarette manufacturers in recent years, with limited success.

See Also Antismoking Movement Before 1950; Antismoking Movement From 1950; French Empire; Tobacco Control in Australia; Tobacco Control in the United Kingdom.



Balzac. Traité des excitants modernes. Paris, 1839.

De Pracontal, Michel, La guerre du tabac. Paris: Fayard, 1998.

Journal du département de la Loire. (7 December 1807): 5.

Nourrisson, Didier. Le tabac en son temps: De la séduction à la répulsion. Rennes, France: Ecole nationale de santé publique, 1999.

——. Histoire sociale du tabac. Paris: Christian, 2000.

——. "Naissance du tabagisme." In Education à la santé. XIXe-XXe siècle. Rennes, France: Ecole nationale de santé publique, 2002.