anti-tobacco campaign of the Nazis: a little
known aspect of public health in Germany,
following article was taken from the BMJ
(British Medical Journal) website & was
done so with permission of the author. Robert
N. Proctor is a professor of the history of science at
Pennsylvania State University & is author of the
Nazi War on Cancer.
Tobacco in the Reich
One topic that has only recently begun to attract attention is the Nazi anti-tobacco
movement.4 5 6 Germany had the world's strongest antismoking movement in the 1930s and early 1940s, supported by Nazi medical and military leaders worried that tobacco might prove a hazard to the
race.1 4 Many Nazi leaders were vocal opponents of smoking. Anti-tobacco activists pointed out that whereas Churchill, Stalin, and Roosevelt were all fond of tobacco, the three major fascist leaders of Europe--Hitler, Mussolini, and Franco--were all
non-smokers.7 Hitler was the most adamant, characterizing
tobacco as "the wrath of the Red Man against the White Man for having been given hard liquor." At one point the Fuhrer even suggested that Nazism might never have triumphed in Germany had he not given up
German smoking rates rose dramatically in the first six years of Nazi rule, suggesting that the propaganda campaign launched during those early years was largely
ineffective.4 5 German smoking rates rose faster even than those of France, which had a much weaker anti-tobacco campaign. German per capita tobacco use between 1932 and 1939 rose from 570 to 900 cigarettes a year, whereas French tobacco consumption grew from 570 to only 630 cigarettes over the same
Smith et al suggested that smoking may have functioned as a kind of cultural
resistance,4 though it is also important to
realize that German tobacco companies exercised a great deal of economic and political power, as they do today. German anti-tobacco activists frequently complained that their efforts were no match for the "American style" advertising campaigns waged by the tobacco
industry.10 German cigarette manufacturers neutralized
early criticism--for example, from the SA (Sturm-Abteilung; stormtroops), which manufactured its own "Sturmzigaretten"--by portraying themselves as early and eager supporters of the
regime.11 The tobacco industry also launched several new journals aimed at countering anti-tobacco propaganda. In a pattern that would become familiar in the United States and elsewhere after the second world war, several of these journals tried to dismiss the anti-tobacco movement as "fanatic" and "unscientific." One such journal featured the German word for science twice in its title (Der Tabak: Wissenschaftliche Zeitschrift der Internationalen Tabakwissenschaftlichen Gesellschaft, founded in 1940).
We should also realise that tobacco provided an important source of revenue for the national treasury. In 1937-8 German national income from tobacco taxes and tariffs exceeded 1 billion
Reichsmarks.12 By 1941, as a result of new taxes and the annexation of Austria and Bohemia, Germans were paying nearly twice that. According to Germany's national accounting office, by 1941 tobacco taxes constituted about one twelfth of the government's entire
income.13 Two hundred thousand Germans were said to owe their livelihood to tobacco--an argument that was reversed by those who pointed to Germany's need for additional men in its
labor force, men who could presumably be supplied from the tobacco
Culmination of the campaign: 1939-41
German anti-tobacco policies accelerated towards the
end of the 1930s, and by the early war years tobacco
use had begun to decline. The Luftwaffe banned smoking
in 1938 and the post office did likewise. Smoking was
barred in many workplaces, government offices,
hospitals, and rest homes. The NSDAP (Nationalsozialistische
Deutsche Arbeiterpartei) announced a ban on smoking in
its offices in 1939, at which time SS chief Heinrich
Himmler announced a smoking ban for all uniformed
police and SS officers while on duty.15 The
Journal of the American Medical Association that year
reported Hermann Goering's decree barring soldiers
from smoking on the streets, on marches, and on brief
off duty periods.16
capital" raining down
to spoil the people's health (Volksgesundheit),
labour power (Arbeitskraft),
demographic political goals (Bevolkerungspolitische
Ziele), and the wealth of
the people (Volksvermogen).
(From Reine Luft
page from Reine Luft
(March-April, 1941), the main
journal of the
German anti-tobacco movement
Fuhrer Adolf Hitler
drinks no alcohol and does not
performance at work is
incredible." (From Auf
der Wacht 1937:18)
Germany's largest cities banned smoking on street cars
in 1941.17 Smoking was banned in air raid
shelters--though some shelters reserved separate rooms
for smokers.18 During the war years tobacco rationing
coupons were denied to pregnant women (and to all
women below the age of 25) while restaurants and cafes
were barred from selling cigarettes to female
customers.19 From July 1943 it was illegal for anyone
under the age of 18 to smoke in public.20
Smoking was banned on all German city trains and buses
in 1944, the initiative coming from Hitler himself,
who was worried about exposure of young female
conductors to tobacco smoke.21 Nazi
policies were heralded as marking "the beginning
of the end" of tobacco use in Germany.14
German tobacco epidemiology by this time was the most
advanced in the world. Franz H Muller in 1939 and
Eberhard Schairer and Erich Schoniger in 1943 were the
first to use case-control epidemiological methods to
document the lung cancer hazard from cigarettes.22
23 Muller concluded that the "extraordinary
rise in tobacco use" was "the single most
important cause of the rising incidence of lung
cancer."22 Heart disease was another
focus and was not infrequently said to be the most
serious illness brought on by smoking.24
Late in the war nicotine was suspected as a cause of
the coronary heart failure suffered by a surprising
number of soldiers on the eastern front. A 1944 report
by an army field pathologist found that all 32 young
soldiers whom he had examined after death from heart
attack on the front had been "enthusiastic
smokers." The author cited the Freiburg
pathologist Franz Buchner's view that cigarettes
should be considered "a coronary poison of the
On 20 June 1940 Hitler ordered tobacco rations to be
distributed to the military "in a manner that
would dissuade" soldiers from smoking.24
Cigarette rations were limited to six per man per day,
with alternative rations available for non-smokers
(for example, chocolate or extra food). Extra
cigarettes were sometimes available for purchase, but
these were generally limited to 50 per man per month
and were often unavailable--as during times of rapid
advance or retreat. Tobacco rations were denied to
women accompanying the Wehrmacht. An ordinance on 3
November 1941 raised tobacco taxes to a higher level
than they had ever been (80-95% of the retail price).
Tobacco taxes would not rise that high again for more
than a quarter of a century after Hitler's defeat.26
In 1940-1 Germans smoked 75
billion cigarettes, or
enough to form a cylindrical
block 436 meters high with a
base of 100 square meters.
(From Reine Luft 1942;24:70)
chain smoker: "You
don't smoke it--it smokes
you!" (From Reine Luft
Impact of the war
& postwar poverty
The net effect of these and other measures (for instance, medical lectures to discourage soldiers from smoking) was to lower tobacco consumption by the military during the war years. A 1944 survey of 1000 servicemen found that, whereas the proportion of soldiers smoking had increased (only 12.7% were non-smokers), the total consumption of tobacco had decreased--by just over 14%. More men were smoking (101 of those surveyed had taken up the habit during the war, whereas only seven had given it up) but the average soldier was smoking about a quarter (23.4%) less tobacco than in the immediate prewar period. The number of very heavy smokers (30 or more cigarettes daily) was down dramatically--from 4.4% to only 0.3%--and similar declines were recorded for moderately heavy
it really just by chance that
men are so much more likely than women
to suffer from lung diseases?"
(From Reine Luft 1941;23:215)
Postwar poverty further cut consumption. According to official statistics German tobacco use did not reach prewar levels again until the mid-1950s. The collapse was dramatic: German per capita consumption dropped by more than half from 1940 to 1950, whereas American consumption nearly doubled during that
period.6 9 French consumption also rose, though during the four years of German occupation cigarette consumption declined by even more than in
Germany9--suggesting that military conquest had a larger effect than Nazi propaganda.
After the war Germany lost its position as home to the world's most aggressive anti-tobacco science. Hitler was dead but also many of his anti-tobacco underlings either had lost their jobs or were otherwise silenced. Karl Astel, head of Jena's Institute for Tobacco Hazards Research (and rector of the University of Jena and an officer in the SS), committed suicide in his office on the night of 3-4 April 1945. Reich Health Fuhrer Leonardo Conti, another anti-tobacco activist, committed suicide on 6 October 1945 in an allied prison while awaiting prosecution for his role in the euthanasia programme. Hans Reiter, the Reich Health Office president who once
characterized nicotine as "the greatest enemy of the people's health" and "the number one drag on the German
economy"27 was interned in an American prison camp for two years, after which he worked as a physician in a clinic in Kassel, never again returning to public service. Gauleiter Fritz Sauckel, the guiding light behind Thuringia's antismoking campaign and the man who drafted the grant application for Astel's anti-tobacco institute, was executed on 1 October 1946 for crimes against humanity. It is hardly surprising that much of the wind was taken out of the sails of Germany's anti-tobacco movement.
The flipside of Fascism
Smith et al were correct to emphasize the strength of the Nazi antismoking effort and the sophistication of Nazi era tobacco
science.4 The antismoking science and policies of the era have not attracted much attention, possibly because the impulse behind the movement was closely attached to the larger Nazi movement. That does not mean, however, that antismoking movements are inherently
fascist28; it means simply that scientific memories are often clouded by the celebrations of victors and that the political history of science is occasionally less pleasant than we would wish.
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MH. Doctors under Hitler. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1989.
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GD, Strobele SA, Egger M. Smoking and death. BMJ 1995;310:396.
||Borgers D. Smoking and death. BMJ 1995;310:1536.
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||Picker H. Hitlers Tischgesprache im Fuhrerhauptquartier. Bonn: Athenaum-Verlag, 1951.
||Lee PN, ed. Tobacco consumption in various countries. 4th ed. London: Tobacco Research Council, 1975.
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||Erkennung und Bekampfung der Tabakgefahren. Dtsch Arztebl 1941;71:183-5.
||Klarner W. Vom Rauchen: Eine Sucht und ihre Bekampfung. Nuremberg: Rudolf Kern, 1940.
||Rauchverbot fur die Polizei auf Strassen und in Dienstraumen. Die Genussgifte 1940;36:59.
||Berlin: alcohol, tobacco and coffee. JAMA 1939;113:1144-5.
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||Informationsdienst des Hauptamtes fur Volksgesundheit der NSDAP. 1944;April-June:60-1.
||Muller FH. Tabakmissbrauch und Lungencarcinom. Z Krebsforsch 1939;49:57-85.
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||Kittel W. Hygiene des Rauchens. In: Handloser S, Hoffmann W, eds. Wehrhygiene. Berlin: Springer-Verlag, 1944.
||Goedel A. Kriegspathologische Beitrage. In: Zimmer A, ed. Kriegschirurgie. Vol 1. Vienna: Franz Deuticke, 1944.
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