I don't think it was for health reasons that the French drank so little. Often the customers who drank only half a pint would smoke an entire pack of cigarettes. I often had to clean out their ash trays twice in an evening and I've never seen people smoke more than some of our customers.
Mine's a half
It was a new experience for me to observe people coming in to a bar and only drinking a half-pint in an entire evening. In Ireland, you get suspicious looks if you ask for a half, and most people manage about 5-6 pints before closing time (11 pm at that time - its now 12 or later). In France, it's very different. Our pub was open until 2am most nights yet many people would make a drink last the entire evening. Is it that the French are wusses or is there binge drinking culture in Ireland?