Absinthes.com tells the story of absinthe – Chapter 4: Banned in France

Today, we are publishing our fourth chapter on the history of absinthe. It deals with the absinthe ban in France, and explains how the anti-absinthe movement achieved its prohibition in 1915.

Banning the green fairy – united against absinthe

The fight against absinthe started to become much more organised. This is why puritans, temperance foundations, politicians and competing alcohol producers found themselves together and built an alliance to fit against absinthe. Because just as popular the green fairy had become, she was probably hated just as much by their opponents. Absinthe became the synonym for alcoholism, violence, murder, and was claimed to introduce the end of the functioning society.

As a result of these negative proclamations, a war was started against this drink. In particular, the wine producers supported any actions ruining the green fairy’s reputation, and cheered the most, when the French government finally declared the ban of absinthe in 1914.

The anti-absinthe movements followed three goals:

  • To fight absinthe and decrease alcoholism
  • To curtail smuggling
  • To foster growth in the consumption of wine (which had been hit so badly by the earlier vine-destroying phylloxera epidemic)


L’Alcool Voila L’Ennemi by Christol. In the centre of this image, there is an absinthe bottle, displayed as pure poison. Further down on the right, there are more spirits shown and marked as poison, however they did not include wine and beer, as these industries were supporting the anti-absinthe movements.

 

But it wasn’t just the French trying to get absinthe banned in their country, for example, absinthe was banned in Belgium and Brazil, followed by the Netherlands and Switzerland in 1910. The US and Canada banned the green fairy in 1912, and finally in Italy, in 1912.

In France, the production, trade (retail as well as wholesale), and consumption of absinthe was banned on March 16, 1915. After the green goddess had conquered that many hearts and palates, she eventually became the victim of her own success.

 

Absinthe – Success, Taxes and acquisitiveness

In 1872, absinthe had become extremely popular and was enjoyed by thousands of people. However, its price kept rising. This was due to additional taxes, that kept being added on top of the original price. As a result, the additional fee that had to be paid on top of the usual price for absinthe, rose from 30 to 40 Francs to 70 Francs in 1895. Although a new regulation setting an average rate for the additional tax was introduced a couple of years later, the absinthe industry had suffered tremendously under the ridiculously high taxes. This had a big impact on the production of absinthe: In 1900, there were around 1000 different types of absinthe on the market, many of which would have been excellent quality made by respected establishments. However, a couple of distilleries tried to absorb the high taxes by using cheap ingredients when making their absinthes. It seems some producers started adding methanol to their drinks – a highly toxic form of alcohol with potential effects including blindness. These few hazardous absinthes damaged the green fairy’s reputation even more. A nightmare for legitimate distilleries, and a equally a joy for the anti-absinthe lobby.
In 1906, The National League Against Alcoholism launched a petition calling on the government to ban absinthe. The petition collected over 400,000 signatures.

The petition stated the following:

Considering absinthe makes you crazy and criminal, provokes epilepsy and tuberculosis, and has killed thousands of French people.
Considering that it makes a ferocious beast of man, a martyr of woman, and a degenerate of the infant, it disorganizes and ruins the family and menaces the future of the country.
Special measures need to be imposed on France, which drinks more absinthe than any other country in the world.

Considering these things, it is clear the parliament must enact the following law:

Doctors and politicians, in the face of alcoholism, concerned about the quality of our race (degeneracy) , and for family life, the foundation of our society. The government must launch today that which we call for – a public awareness campaign (for example: tobacco) to influence public opinion! For this, the government can use tracts, posters, events for workers and schoolchildren – even public information films to be projected in our cinemas.


An absinthe allegory by Darre – Death and the devil are walking hand in hand

This act was appreciated the most by the wine lobby, which is why they supported this particular petition with all their power. It was their opportunity, to finally get rid of the green fairy.

 

Wine vs. Absinthe

The wine industry saw one of its biggest threats on the French alcohol market in absinthe. It wasn’t just its popularity, but also because of its price: Absinthe used to be cheaper than wine. Furthermore, the wine industry suffered from a plague on most of the French grape-vines, and they had to invest heavily in planting them all again. The shortage of wine on the market increased its price, and made it less attractive for consumers, especially when there was a great alternative in absinthe. As a result, the wine lobby launched a campaign against all spirits, that were not “natural”, and these campaigns were especially targeted at the green fairy.


A cry for alarm – Christol, 1909

On June 8th, 1907, thousands of farmers assembled on the Trocadero and fought their protest with the chant “All for wine: against absinthe.”

I hope you enjoyed reading the fourth chapter of the Absinthe History. In two weeks, the final chapter will be sent out to you, unfortunately, my story draws to a close. The last chapter will take a closer look at how absinthe was banned in Switzerland, and its comeback today. If you fancy reading the previous chapters again, take a look here.

In two weeks, the final chapter of the Absinthe History will be sent out via our newsletters – if you want to be one of the first ones to read it, sign up for our newsletter now!

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