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Faktoja


What's a drug?

Subject(s): FRENCH -- Health & hygiene; FRANCE -- Social policy;
FRANCE. -- Ministry of Health; ALCOHOLIC beverages -- France;
KOUCHNER, Bernard
Source: Economist, 06/26/99, Vol. 351 Issue 8125, p60, 2/3p, 1 graph,

1 cartoon Abstract: Reports that the French government, in an attempt to make the country healthier, seems set to put illegal substances such as heroin, cocaine, and cannabis in the same category medically as alcohol and tobacco. Request of the health minister, Bernard Kouchner, for the reclassification of legal and illegal substances based on the harm they inflict; Alcohol, heroin, and cocaine put in the most-dangerous bracket; Cannabis placed in the least dangerous group;

Protests by France's drink and tobacco lobbies.
AN: 1970858
ISSN: 0013-0613
Database: Academic Search Elite

Section: EUROPE

France

WHAT'S A DRUG?

Dateline: PARIS

THEY are the world's biggest producers of wine; they guzzle, on average, more psychotropic medicines such as sleeping pills, anti-depressants and tranquillisers than any other nation; and half their 18-year-olds are said to be steady smokers. But, in the wordsof Le Monde, the country's most earnest newspaper, a ``mini cultural revolution'' may be at hand. For the government, in its latest drive to make the French healthier, seems set to put illegal substances such as heroin, cocaine and cannabis in the same basket--medically if not yet legally--as alcohol and tobacco.

The government certainly seems to be paying more attention to the lobbies against cigarettes and booze. Tobacco, it says, kills 45,000 Frenchmen prematurely each year. Heavy drinking is said to carry off another 35,000. The French, it is gloomily pointed out, knock back on average the equivalent of 11 litres of pure alcohol a year--half as much again as Americans or Britons. Some 2m French people are said to be alcoholic.

And now the government has given its blessing to a report on drugs, drawn up last year at the request of the health minister, Bernard Kouchner, which urges a drastic reclassification of legal and illegal substances, based on the harm they are thought to do. Alcohol, along with heroin and cocaine, has been put into the top--most dangerous--bracket. Tobacco is in the second group, along with ``psycho-stimulants'' such as amphetamines and hallucinatory drugs like LSD. Cannabis has been put into the third, least dangerous, group.

Mr Kouchner, himself a doctor, clearly approves. ``Why does society persecute those with some kinds of addiction, while calmly putting up with others that are far more widespread, dangerous and expensive?'' he asks. ``My job as health minister is to reduce risks, not to lay down morals. All I know is that repression does no good.''

Such attitudes have prompted a barrage of protest, not least from France's powerful drink and tobacco lobbies. The political right has generally sounded affronted too. Surely the whiff of a Gauloise and a coup de rouge--a shot of red wine--are part of the nation's cultural heritage? Does it matter that the odd layabout finds himself locked up (for up to a year, in theory) for a puff of cannabis? Quite right that 58,000 Frenchmen were had up for smoking it in 1997. One pro-cannabis campaigner, who had the bright idea of sending a joint to every member of the National Assembly, was recently given a prison sentence (admittedly suspended).

GRAPH: Fishes and chimneys: % aged 15-34 in the EU ...

Fishes and chimneys: % aged 15-34 in the EU who smoke daily (Sources:

Eurostat; World Drink Trends, NTC Publications)

But the reformers are in the ascendant. They made much of a report last November in The Lancet, a leading British medical journal, which called for a ``new approach'' to cannabis, and said it was ``less of a threat to health than alcohol or tobacco''. A month later, an opinion poll in France suggested that four people out of five reckoned that alcohol was at least as dangerous as cannabis.

And now, after months of hesitation, France's prime minister, Lionel Jospin, in some respects a bit of a puritan, has decided to follow the advice of the latest ministerial commission looking into drugs: it says that alcohol, tobacco and psychotropic medicines should come under its remit too.

Over the next three years, 600 treatment centres are to be set up to tackle dependency on any kind of harmful substance--tobacco, alcohol and psychotropic medicine included. Programmes are to be set up for prisoners, many of whom are drug addicts or alcoholics. Mr Jospin says he is still firmly against decriminalising drugs, soft or not. But now that his government accepts that tobacco and alcohol should be put in the same category for treatment and research, France's reformers reckon they are on a roll.