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Anti-tobacco movement in Nazi Germany

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Nazi Germany initiated a strong anti-tobacco movement[1] and led the first public anti-smoking campaign in modern history.[2] Anti-tobacco movements grew in many nations from the beginning of the 20th century,[3][4] but these had little success, except in Germany, where the campaign was supported by the government after the Nazis came to power.[3] It was the most powerful anti-smoking movement in the world during the 1930s and early 1940s.[5] The National Socialist leadership condemned smoking[6] and several of them openly criticized tobacco consumption.[5] Research on smoking and its effects on health thrived under Nazi rule[7] and was the most important of its type at that time.[8] Adolf Hitler's personal distaste for tobacco[9] and the Nazi reproductive policies were among the motivating factors behind their campaign against smoking, and this campaign was associated with both antisemitism and racism.[10]

The Nazi anti-tobacco campaign included banning smoking in trams, buses and city trains,[5] promoting health education,[11] limiting cigarette rations in the Wehrmacht, organizing medical lectures for soldiers, and raising the tobacco tax.[5] The National Socialists also imposed restrictions on tobacco advertising and smoking in public spaces, and regulated restaurants and coffeehouses.[5] The anti-tobacco movement did not have much effect in the early years of the Nazi regime and tobacco use increased between 1933 and 1939,[12] but smoking by military personnel declined from 1939 to 1945.[13] Even by the end of the 20th century, the anti-smoking movement in postwar Germany had not attained the influence of the Nazi anti-smoking campaign.[12]

Prelude to Nazi anti-tobacco campaign[edit]

Anti-tobacco sentiment existed in Germany in the early 1900s. Critics of smoking organized the first anti-tobacco group in the country named the Deutscher Tabakgegnerverein zum Schutze der Nichtraucher (German Tobacco Opponents' Association for the Protection of Non-smokers). Established in 1904, this organization existed for a brief period only. The next anti-tobacco organization, the Bund Deutscher Tabakgegner (Federation of German Tobacco Opponents), was established in 1910 in Trautenau, Bohemia. Other anti-smoking organizations were established in 1912 in the cities of Hanover and Dresden. In 1920, a Bund Deutscher Tabakgegner in der Tschechoslowakei (Federation of German Tobacco Opponents in Czechoslovakia) was formed in Prague, after Czechoslovakia was separated from Austria at the end of World War I. A Bund Deutscher Tabakgegner in Deutschösterreich (Federation of German Tobacco Opponents in German Austria) was established in Graz in 1920.[14]

These groups published journals advocating nonsmoking. The first such German language journal was Der Tabakgegner (The Tobacco Opponent), published by the Bohemian organization between 1912 and 1932. The Deutsche Tabakgegner (German Tobacco Opponents) was published in Dresden from 1919 to 1935, and was the second journal on this subject.[15] The anti-tobacco organizations were also against consumption of alcohol.[16]

Hitler's attitude towards smoking[edit]

Adolf Hitler was a heavy smoker in his early life—he used to smoke 25 to 40 cigarettes daily—but gave up the habit, concluding that it was a waste of money.[9] In later years, Hitler viewed smoking as "decadent"[13] and "the wrath of the Red Man against the White Man, vengeance for having been given hard liquor",[9] lamenting that "so many excellent men have been lost to tobacco poisoning".[17] He was unhappy because both Eva Braun and Martin Bormann were smokers and was concerned over Hermann Göring's continued smoking in public places. He was angered when a statue portraying a cigar-smoking Göring was commissioned.[9] Hitler is often considered to be the first national leader to advocate nonsmoking.[18]

Hitler disapproved of the military personnel's freedom to smoke, and during World War II he said on March 2, 1942, "it was a mistake, traceable to the army leadership at the time, at the beginning of the war". He also said that it was "not correct to say that a soldier cannot live without smoking". He promised to end the use of tobacco in the military after the end of the war. Hitler personally encouraged close friends not to smoke and rewarded those who quit smoking. However, Hitler's personal distaste for tobacco was only one of several catalysts behind the anti-smoking campaign.[9]

Reproductive policies[edit]

The Nazi reproductive policies were a significant factor behind their anti-tobacco campaign.[10] Women who smoked were considered to be vulnerable to premature aging and loss of physical attractiveness; they were viewed as unsuitable to be wives and mothers in a German family. Werner Huttig of the Nazi Party's Rassenpolitisches Amt (Office of Racial Politics) said that a smoking mother's breast milk contained nicotine,[19] a claim that is proved to be correct in modern research.[20][21][22] Martin Staemmler, a prominent physician during the Third Reich, opined that smoking by pregnant women resulted in a higher rate of stillbirths and miscarriages. This opinion was also supported by well-known female racial hygienist Agnes Bluhm, whose book published in 1936 expressed the same view. The Nazi leadership was concerned over this because they wanted German women to be as reproductive as possible. An article published in a German gynaecology journal in 1943 stated that women smoking three or more cigarettes per day were more likely to remain childless compared to nonsmoking women.[23]


Research and studies on tobacco's effects on the population's health were more advanced in Germany than in any other nation by the time the Nazis came to power.[5] The link between lung cancer and tobacco was first proven in Nazi Germany,[17][24][25] contrary to the popular belief that American and British scientists first discovered it in the 1950s.[17] The term "passive smoking" ("Passivrauchen") was coined in Nazi Germany.[2] Research projects funded by the Nazis revealed many disastrous effects of smoking on health.[26] Nazi Germany supported epidemiological research on the harmful effects of tobacco use.[1] Hitler personally gave financial support to the Wissenschaftliches Institut zur Erforschung der Tabakgefahren (Institute for Tobacco Hazards Research) at the University of Jena, headed by Karl Astel.[13][27] Established in 1941, it was the most significant anti-tobacco institute in Nazi Germany.[27]

Franz H. Müller in 1939 and E. Schairer in 1943 first used case-control epidemiological methods to study lung cancer among smokers.[13] In 1939, Müller published a study report in a reputed cancer journal in Germany which claimed that prevalence of lung cancer was higher among smokers.[1] Müller, described as the "forgotten father of experimental epidemiology",[28] was a member of the National Socialist Motor Corps (NSKK) and the Nazi Party (NSDAP). Müller's 1939 medical dissertation was the world's first controlled epidemiological study of the relationship between tobacco and lung cancer. Apart from mentioning the increasing incidence of lung cancer and many of the causes behind it such as dust, exhaust gas from cars, tuberculosis, X-ray and pollutants emitted from factories, Müller's paper pointed out that "the significance of tobacco smoke has been pushed more and more into the foreground".[29]

Physicians in the Third Reich were aware that smoking is responsible for cardiac diseases, which were considered to be the most serious diseases resulting from smoking. Use of nicotine was sometimes considered to be responsible for increasing reports of myocardial infarction in the country. In the later years of World War II, researchers considered nicotine a factor behind the coronary heart failures suffered by a significant number of military personnel in the Eastern Front. A pathologist of the Heer examined thirty-two young soldiers who had died from myocardial infarction at the front, and documented in a 1944 report that all of them were "enthusiastic smokers". He cited the opinion of pathologist Franz Buchner that cigarettes are "a coronary poison of the first order."[19]

Anti-tobacco measures[edit]

The Nazis used several public relations tactics to convince the general population of Germany not to smoke. Well-known health magazines like the Gesundes Volk (Healthy People),[26] Volksgesundheit (People's Health) and Gesundes Leben (Healthy Life)[30] published warnings about the health consequences of smoking[26][30] and posters showing the harmful effects of tobacco were displayed. Anti-smoking messages were sent to the people in their workplaces,[26] often with the help of the Hitler-Jugend (HJ) and the Bund Deutscher Mädel (BDM).[10][26][30] The anti-smoking campaign undertaken by the Nazis also included health education.[11][24][31] In June 1939, a Bureau against the Hazards of Alcohol and Tobacco was formed and the Reichsstelle für Rauschgiftbekämpfung (Bureau for the Struggle against Addictive Drugs) also helped in the anti-tobacco campaign. Articles advocating nonsmoking were published in the magazines Die Genussgifte (The Poisons for Enjoyment), Auf der Wacht (On the Guard) and Reine Luft (Clean Air).[32] Out of these magazines, Reine Luft was the main journal of the anti-tobacco movement.[5][33] Karl Astel's Institute for Tobacco Hazards Research at Jena University purchased and distributed hundreds of reprints from Reine Luft.[33]

After recognizing the harmful effects of smoking on health, several items of anti-smoking legislation were enacted.[34] The later 1930s increasingly saw anti-tobacco laws implemented by the Nazis. In 1938, the Luftwaffe and the Reichspost imposed a ban on smoking. Smoking was also banned not only in health care institutions, but also in several public offices and in rest homes.[5] Midwives were restricted from smoking while on duty. In 1939, the Nazi Party outlawed smoking in all of its offices premises, and Heinrich Himmler, the then chief of the Schutzstaffel (SS), restricted police personnel and SS officers from smoking while they were on duty.[35] Smoking was also outlawed in schools.[26]

In 1941, tobacco smoking in trams was outlawed in sixty German cities.[35] Smoking was also outlawed in bomb shelters; however, some shelters had separate rooms for smoking.[5] Special care was taken to prevent women from smoking. The President of the Medical Association in Germany announced, "German women don't smoke".[36] Pregnant women and women below the age of 25 and over the age of 55 were not given tobacco ration cards during World War II. Restrictions on selling tobacco products to women were imposed on the hospitality and food retailing industry.[35] Anti-tobacco films aimed at women were publicly aired. Editorials discussing the issue of smoking and its effects were published in newspapers. Strict measures were taken in this regard and a district department of the National Socialist Factory Cell Organization (NSBO) announced that it would expel female members who smoked publicly.[37] The next step in the anti-tobacco campaign came in July 1943, when public smoking for persons under the age of 18 was outlawed.[10][30][35] In the next year, smoking in buses and city trains was made illegal,[13] on the personal initiative of Hitler, who feared female ticket takers might be the victims of passive smoking.[5]

Restrictions were imposed on the advertisement of tobacco products,[38] enacted on December 7, 1941 and signed by Heinrich Hunke, the President of the Advertising Council. Advertisements trying to depict smoking as harmless or as an expression of masculinity were banned. Ridiculing anti-tobacco activists was also outlawed,[39] as was the use of advertising posters along rail tracks, in rural regions, stadiums and racing tracks. Advertising by loudspeakers and mail was also prohibited.[40]

Restrictions on smoking were also introduced in the Wehrmacht. Cigarette rations in the military were limited to six per soldier per day. Extra cigarettes were often sold to the soldiers, especially when there was no military advance or retreat in the battleground, however these were restricted to 50 for each person per month.[5] Teenaged soldiers serving in the 12th SS Panzer Division Hitlerjugend, composed of Hitler Youth members, were given candy instead of tobacco products.[41] Access to cigarettes was not allowed for the Wehrmacht's female auxiliary personnel. Medical lectures were arranged to persuade military personnel to quit smoking. An ordinance enacted on November 3, 1941 raised tobacco taxes by approximately 80–95% of the retail price. It would be the highest rise in tobacco taxes in Germany until more than 25 years after the collapse of the Nazi regime.[5]


The early anti-smoking campaign was considered a failure, and from 1933 to 1937 there was a rapid increase in tobacco consumption in Germany.[12] The rate of smoking in the nation increased faster even than in neighboring France, where the anti-tobacco movement was tiny and far less influential. Between 1932 and 1939, per capita cigarette consumption in Germany increased from 570 to 900 per year, while the corresponding numbers for France were from 570 to 630.[5][42]

The cigarette manufacturing companies in Germany made several attempts to weaken the anti-tobacco campaign. They published new journals and tried to depict the anti-tobacco movement as "fanatic" and "unscientific".[5] The tobacco industry also tried to counter the government campaign to prevent women from smoking and used smoking models in their advertisements.[36] Despite government regulations, many women in Germany regularly smoked, including the wives of many high-ranking Nazi officials. For instance, Magda Goebbels smoked even while she was interviewed by a journalist. Fashion illustrations displaying women with cigarettes were often published in prominent publications such as the Beyers Mode für Alle (Beyers Fashion For All). The cover of the popular song Lili Marleen featured singer Lale Andersen holding a cigarette.[37]

per year in Germany & the US
1930 1935 1940 1944
Germany 490 510 1,022 743
United States 1,485 1,564 1,976 3,039

The Nazis implemented more anti-tobacco policies at the end of the 1930s and by the early years of World War II, the rate of tobacco usage declined. As a result of the anti-tobacco measures implemented in the Wehrmacht,[5] the total tobacco consumption by soldiers decreased between 1939 and 1945.[13] According to a survey conducted in 1944, the number of smokers increased in the Wehrmacht, but average tobacco consumption per military personnel declined by 23.4% compared to the immediate pre-World War II years. The number of people who smoked 30 or more cigarettes per day declined from 4.4% to 0.3%.[5]

The Nazi anti-tobacco policies were not free of contradictions. For example, the Volksgesundheit (People's Health) and Gesundheitspflicht (Duty to be Healthy) policies were enforced in parallel with the active distribution of cigarettes to people who the Nazis saw as "deserving" groups (e.g. frontline soldiers, members of the Hitler Youth). On the other hand, "undeserving" and stigmatized groups (Jews, war prisoners) were denied access to tobacco.[43]

Association with antisemitism and racism[edit]

Apart from public health concerns, the Nazis were heavily influenced by ideology;[26] specifically, the movement was influenced by concepts of racial hygiene and bodily purity.[44] Nazi leaders believed that it was wrong for the master race to smoke[26] and that tobacco consumption was equal to "racial degeneracy".[45] The Nazis viewed tobacco as a "genetic poison".[44] Racial hygienists opposed tobacco use, fearing that it would "corrupt" the "German germ plasm".[46] Nazi anti-tobacco activists often tried to depict tobacco as a "vice" of the "degenerate" Africans.[44]

The Nazis claimed that the Jews were responsible for introducing tobacco and its harmful effects. The Seventh-day Adventist Church in Germany announced that smoking was an unhealthy vice spread by the Jews.[46] Johann von Leers, editor of the Nordische Welt (Nordic World), during the opening ceremony of the Wissenschaftliches Institut zur Erforschung der Tabakgefahren in 1941, proclaimed that "Jewish capitalism" was responsible for the spread of tobacco use across Europe. He said that the first tobacco on German soil was brought by the Jews and that they controlled the tobacco industry in Amsterdam, the principal European entry point of Nicotiana.[47]

After World War II[edit]

After the collapse of Nazi Germany at the end of World War II, American cigarette manufacturers quickly entered the German market. Illegal smuggling of tobacco became prevalent,[48] and leaders of the Nazi anti-smoking campaign were silenced.[7] In 1949, approximately 400 million cigarettes manufactured in the United States entered Germany illegally every month. In 1954, nearly two billion Swiss cigarettes were smuggled into Germany and Italy. As part of the Marshall Plan, the United States sent free tobacco to Germany; the amount of tobacco shipped into Germany in 1948 was 24,000 tons and was as high as 69,000 tons in 1949. The Federal government of the United States spent $70 million on this scheme, to the delight of cigarette manufacturing companies in the United States, who profited hugely.[48] Per capita yearly cigarette consumption in post-war Germany steadily rose from 460 in 1950 to 1,523 in 1963. At the end of the 20th century, the anti-tobacco campaign in Germany has been unable to exceed the seriousness of the Nazi-era climax in the years 1939–41 and German tobacco health research is described by Robert N. Proctor as "muted".[12]

Reductio ad Hitlerum[edit]

Nick K Schneider of the Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education, University of California, San Francisco and professor Stanton A Glantz of the Department of Medicine and Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education at the UCSF writes, "the tobacco industry and its front groups abused and distorted history to condemn tobacco control measures as Nazi policies and its advocates as "health fascists." Proctor in his book The Nazi War on Cancer clarified that the implementation of anti-tobacco measures by the Nazis do not mean tobacco control policies will be inherently fascist.[49] But despite this, the tobacco industry have made attempts to characterize anti-tobacco measure as "Nazi" or "fascist".[50] Tobacco manufacturers in both European and the United States have tried to play the Nazi card by linking anti-smoking measures with Nazi policings.[51] Philip Morris (it was knows as Philip Morris when Proctor wrote the book), one of the largest tobacco companies in the world, in an advertisement depicted smokers as Jews and opponents of smoking as Nazis. The company did not mention that the tobacco industry in the Third Reich embraced the Nazi cause in an eager manner.[52]


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  24. 24.0 24.1 Johan P. Mackenbach, {{{first}}} (2005). Odol, Autobahne and a non-smoking Führer: Reflections on the innocence of public health, 537–9. {{{publisher}}}.
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  • Berridge, Virginia (2007). Marketing Health: Smoking and the Discourse of Public Health in Britain, 1945-2000, . Oxford University Press.



  • Clark, George Norman (2005). A History of the Royal College of Physicians of London, . Oxford University Press.



  • Daunton, Martin (2001). The Politics of Consumption: Material Culture and Citizenship in Europe and America, . Berg Publishers.


  • Gilman, Sander L. (2004). Smoke: A Global History of Smoking, . Reaktion Books.


  • Guenther, Irene (2004). Nazi Chic?: Fashioning Women in the Third Reich, . Berg Publishers.


  • Lee, P. N. (1975). Tobacco Consumption in Various Countries, . London: Tobacco Research Council.


  • Meyer, Hubert (2005). The 12th SS: The History of the Hitler Youth Panzer Division, . Stackpole Books.



  • Schaler, Jeffrey A. (2004). Szasz Under Fire: A Psychiatric Abolitionist Faces His Critics, . Open Court Publishing.


  • Szollosi-Janze, Margit (2001). Science in the Third Reich, . Berg Publishers.


  • Tillman, Barrett (2004). Brassey's D-Day Encyclopedia: The Normandy Invasion A-Z, . Potomac Books Inc..


  • Uekoetter, Frank (2006). The Green and the Brown: A History of Conservation in Nazi Germany, . Cambridge University Press.


  • Young, T. Kue (2005). Population Health: Concepts and Methods, . Oxford University Press.


Further reading[edit]

  • Bachinger, E (2007). Tobacco policies in Austria during the Third Reich, 1033–7. {{{publisher}}}.
  • Brooks, Alexander (January 19, 1996). Guest Column: Forward to the Past, . {{{publisher}}}.
  • Doll, Richard (2001). Commentary: Lung cancer and tobacco consumption, 30–31. {{{publisher}}}.
  • Haustein, Knut-Olaf (2004). Fritz Lickint (1898-1960) – Ein Leben als Aufklärer über die Gefahren des Tabaks, . Suchtmedizin in Forschung und Praxis.
  • Proctor, Robert N (1999). Why did the Nazis have the world's most aggressive anti-cancer campaign?, 76–9. {{{publisher}}}.
  • R. Nicosia, Francis; Huener, Jonathan (2002), Medicine and Medical Ethics in Nazi Germany, Berghahn Books, ISBN 1571813861