| Jean-Paul Sartre wields a Gauloises. (AFP file picture)
London, Aug. 31: The French writer, Jean-Paul Sartre, was rarely photographed without a Gauloises in his hand.
Others who had pretensions to being an intellectual ' especially in Calcutta ' also liked being seen smoking this brand of French cigarette in public.
But now, Altadis, the Franco-Spanish group which manufactures Gauloises, announced it is to close its factory in Lille, with the loss of at least 500 jobs.
The planned closure provoked a long running dispute with unions who blockaded the factory in an attempt to prevent cigarettes leaving the plant. At one point, riot police had to be called in.
There have been reports in the financial pages that the UK’s Imperial Tobacco is willing to pay '7.56 billion for Altadis, who also own the Gitanes cigarette brand plus the Cuban cigar Montecristo.
Although Altadis have denied the reports, rumours of a takeover have been persistent.
The management of Altadis announced two years ago that it intended to trim some 1,700 jobs by 2005.
Seven-hundred of these were to be in France, where six factories would close, and another 1,000 in Spain.
The French factories picked for closure included Lille, Morlaix (Finist're) and Tonnains (Lot-et-Garonne).
Throughout western Europe, governments are trying to encourage their citizens not to smoke or at least cut down on consumption.
But they have been quite happy to allow cigarettes to be dumped on the Third World and move manufacture to countries like China.
The Gauloises brand first appeared in 1910. In 1925, the packaging was redesigned to a distinctive blue packet with a helmet design which is still used today. Filtered Gauloises appeared in the 1950s.
When the brand first appeared it was made from dark tobacco, but in 1984 the brand was relaunched to an American type blend of light tobacco and renamed Gauloises Blondes. A Gauloise lower tar version is also available, sold in a red packet.
The brand remains popular worldwide, although sales have gone down in recent years with the decline of cigarette smoking.
The brand is most famous for its very high strength cigarettes, especially in its original unfiltered form.
George Orwell mentions he smokes the brand in Down and Out in Paris and London. This, together with the romantic associations of France, makes Gauloises a popular brand among writers and artists.
The brand is also featured in the Roman Polanski film, The Tenant.
Recent online ads for the brand began: “To err is human. To smoke Gauloises, divine.”
The copy read: “In the hustle and bustle of the 21st century, few simple pleasures remain.
A perfectly brewed cup of coffee. A frosty mug of beer. And, most importantly, the pleasure of a quality Gauloises cigarette.
Due to taxes and other regulatory issues, the price of Gauloises cigarettes has become unbelievably expensive... over $8 a pack in some states.
However, there is a perfectly easy and legal way to avoid overpaying for your Gauloises smokes... buying your Gauloises cigs online.”
Four years ago, Gauloises were offered free to Oxford undergraduates, who were to be paid '50 for two hours work.
All they had to do was to smoke the cigarettes in public, leave packets lying around in pubs and bars and to look fashionably bohemian at all times.
“The priority is that the Gauloises brand should be seen in connection with youth and glamour,” one of the students said later.
When the well known Irish comedian Dave Allen died recently, his obituary read: “On stage, Allen was inevitably armed with a stool, a microphone, a stiff drink and a packet of Gauloises cigarettes.”