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‘A page has turned’: Dordogne bids adieu to France’s last tobacco factory

Jean-Jacques de Peretti, the mayor of the town of Sarlat-la-Caneda in Dordogne describes the closure of France's last tobacco factory as the "turning of a page in our agricultural history".

'A page has turned': Dordogne bids adieu to France's last tobacco factory
France's last tobacco factory in the heart of Dordogne has closed down. Photo: AFP

Gerard Chanquoi looks sadly at the conveyor belts of France's sole remaining tobacco processing factory as they whirl for the last times ahead of its final closure, a victim of changed economic times and a different public health landscape.

Anti-smoking campaigners may cheer its demise, but for its workers and local tobacco growers, the closure of the France Tabac factory after 34 years of operation is a devastating blow to the Dordogne region of southwest France.

“It's a fine mess,” lamented Chanquoi, 61, who has worked for over 30 years at the factory in the town of Sarlat-la Caneda.

“It makes you well up a bit, it's hard. I am at the end of my career, but for my friends… who have a decade of career ahead of them, it is tough,” he added.

In its heyday after opening in 1985 in one of France's main tobacco growing regions, the factory was a mainstay of the local economy, extending over 10 hectares (25 acres) and processing 20,000 tonnes of tobacco leaves from France and Europe every year.

“Our know-how is recognised across all of Europe,” said Chanquoi, looking ruefully at an almost empty warehouse where only years ago bundles of processed tobacco would have stretched to the ceiling.

“This used to be a hive of activity.”

AFP

The homegrown tobacco used in cigarettes like Gauloises, beloved of French film icons and philosophers, used to be a symbol of France. 

But the country's last cigarette factory, la Seita in Riom in the Puy-de-Dome region, closed in 2017 and the Gauloises brand is now produced in Poland.

The number of smokers in France remains above the average for a developed country, with 32 percent of adults aged between 18-75 smoking in 2018, according to official figures

But the number of people describing themselves as daily smokers has fallen sharply in recent years as the price of cigarettes has risen. 

'Doomed'

The production line at the factory in Sarlat-le-Caneda finally came to a halt just before midday on Monday. Some workers remain in the plant this week for a final clean-up before a meeting with the director next week ahead of being laid-off.

The factory's director Eric Tabanou said that announcing the closure to the employees was painful, while insisting there was no other option.

“We stood up in front of 200 employees. It was dramatic… The factory was on borrowed time, the end was inevitable,” Tabanou said.

Trouble began in 2010 when the European Union announced that, as part of its drive to cut smoking, tobacco producers would no longer receive subsidies from the bloc.

AFP

“Tobacco production diminished from year to year and certain products were not in line with the demands of the market,” Tabanou said.

“Also, we had to submit to increased competition from tobacco manufacturers who would do anything to save a single cent.”

In 2016, the factory was processing over 5,300 tonnes of tobacco a year, far below the 20,000 tonnes processed in the 2000s.

“French production makes up just one percent of Europe's output, and it is doomed,” Tabanou said.

French tobacco will now be processed outside the country, notably in Croatia.

“It is the turning of a page in our agricultural history,” Jean-Jacques de Peretti, the mayor of Sarlat-la-Caneda, said when the closure was announced in late August.

'New opportunities'

But some producers hope that all is not lost, and say they will focus on the high-end market and also producing the raw material needed to create vaping cartridges.

“It is a tough blow, but we will try and find new opportunities,” said Patrick Maury, who grows tobacco and also runs a dairy farm in Mazeyrolles, around 35 kilometres from Sarlat.

“Along with my son, we need this crop to live, it makes up 40 percent of our revenues,” he said.

Laurent Testut, head of the local Perigord Tabac cooperative, said the industry had managed to adapt before, for example by moving to lighter tobacco blends in line with changing tastes and regulations.

“We risk having to come closer to world prices, but it is up to us to focus on production niches. We have some leads already,” he said.

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LANGUAGE AND CULTURE

Snobs, beaches and drunks – 5 things this joke map teaches us about France

A popular joke 'map' of France has once again been widely shared on social media, sparking endless jokes at the expense of certain regions of France.

Snobs, beaches and drunks - 5 things this joke map teaches us about France
Image AFP/cartesfrance.fr
But while the map – created by cartesfrance.fr – is clearly intended to be comic, it teaches us some important points about France’s regional divides, local stereotypes and in-jokes.
 

 
 
 
Here are some of the key points.
 
1. Everyone hates Parisians
 
The map is purportedly France as seen through the eyes of Parisians, and contains a series of snobbish and rude generalisations about every part of France that is not maison (home) in the capital and its surroundings. The great majority of the country is labelled simply as paysans (peasants).
 
The general stereotype about Parisians is that they are snobs, rudely judging the rest of the country which they regard as backwards and full of ploucs (yokels) apart from small areas which make nice holiday destinations.
 
Like all sweeping generalisations, this is true of some people and very much not of others, but one of the few things that can unite people from all areas of France is how much they hate les parigots têtes de veaux (a colloquialism that very roughly translates as ‘asshole Parisians’)
 
 
2. Staycations rule
 
Even before Covid-related travel restrictions, holidaying within France was the norm for many French people.
 
As the map shows, Parisians regard the southern and western coastlines as simply plages (beaches) which they decamp to for at least a month in July or August. In the height of summer French cities tend to empty out (apart from tourists) as locals head to the seaside or the countryside.
 
 
In winter the Pyrenees and Alps are popular ski destinations.
 
3. Northerners like a drink
 
There is a very widespread stereotype, although not really backed up by evidence, that the people of Normandy, Brittany and the Nord area like a drink or two. Many suggest this is to cope with the weather, which does tend to be rainier than the rest of France (although has plenty of sunshine too).
 
 
Official health data doesn’t really back this up, as none of these areas show a significantly greater than average rate of daily drinkers, although Nord does hold the sad record for the highest rate of people dying from alcohol-related liver disease.
 
What’s certainly true is that Brittany and Normandy are cider country, with delicious locally-produced ciders on sale everywhere, well worth a try if you are visiting.
 
 
4. Poverty
 
The map labels the north eastern corner of France as simply pauvres – the poor.
 
The north east of the country was once France’s industrial and coal-mining heartland, and as traditional industries have declined there are indeed pockets of extreme poverty and high unemployment. The novel The End of Eddy, telling the story of novelist Edouard Louis’ childhood in a struggling small town near Amiens, lays out the social problems of such areas in stark detail.
 
However poverty is not just confined to one corner of France and the département that records the highest levels of deprivation is actually Seine-Saint-Denis in the Paris suburbs.
 
5. Southern prejudice
 
According to the map, those from the south are either branleurs (slackers) or menteurs (liars). 
 
This isn’t true, obviously, there are many lovely, hard-working and truthful people in southern France, but the persistent stereotype is that they are lazy – maybe because it’s too hot to do much work – and slightly shifty.
 
Even people who aren’t actually rude about southerners can be pretty patronising, as shown when south west native Jean Castex became the prime minister in summer 2020. 
 
Castex has a noticeable south west accent which sparked much comment from the Paris-based media and political classes, with comments ranging from the patronising – “I love his accent, I feel like I’m on holiday” – to the very patronising – “that accent is a bit rugby” (a reference to the fact that TV rugby commentators often come from France’s rugby heartlands in the south west).
 
 
In his first year as PM, Castex has undertaken a dizzying schedule of appointments around the four corners of France, so hopefully the lazy myth can now be put to bed.
 
And anyone tempted to take the piss out of his accent – glottophobie (accent prejudice) is now a crime in France.
 
For more maps that reflect France, head to cartesfrance.fr
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