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Absinthism: fictitious 19th century syndrome

At first, concerns about absinthe were ignored, especially by the French government, due to lucrative revenues resulting from the enormous scale of absinthe sales. By the end of the 19th century, temperance forces had succeeded in getting the attention of almost all of France through educational programs and public awareness campaigns. In 1908 a bill was passed that, ironically, increased the amount of alcohol in absinthe, the argument being that the requirement for higher alcoholic strength would eliminate those producers who used artificial essences with lower standards of purity [13 ]. Only rising concerns about a weakening of military power in the light of absinthe abuse, especially in the army, pressured the French government to ban absinthe in 1915. The U.S. Department of Agriculture had already issued the Food Inspection Decision 147, which banned absinthe in the U.S., on 25th July 1912. Belgium, Switzerland and Italy had also passed laws prohibiting absinthe in 1905, 1908 and 1913 respectively; finally, Germany outlawed the green fairy on 27th April 1923 [ 17 ].

Prestwich concluded that the prohibition of absinthe did little to improve the health of the French people as deprived of their traditional absinthe consumers merely switched to similar drinks. In addition, by stressing the problem of essences and impure alcohol, temperance campaigners distracted both medical research and the public from the real cause of alcoholism, namely the excessive consumption of any type of alcoholic drink [18].

For further information about the social history of absinthe, which goes beyond the scope of this review, the book of Adams is recommended [16]. Further informa tion is available in the works of Arnold [19,20], Baker [ 10 ], Conrad [21], Lanier [13], Marrus [22], and Prestwich [ 18 ]. Information about absinthes' paraphernalia and the drinking ritual is available in an article of Hood [23].

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