Intended for healthcare professionals


The anti-tobacco campaign of the Nazis: a little known aspect of public health in Germany, 1933–45

BMJ 1996; 313 doi: (Published 07 December 1996) Cite this as: BMJ 1996;313:1450
  1. Robert N Proctor, professor of the history of sciencea
  1. a Department of History, Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA 16802, United States
  • Accepted 6 November 1996

Historians and epidemiologists have only recently begun to explore the Nazi anti-tobacco movement. Germany had the world's strongest antismoking movement in the 1930s and early 1940s, encompassing bans on smoking in public spaces, bans on advertising, restrictions on tobacco rations for women, and the world's most refined tobacco epidemiology, linking tobacco use with the already evident epidemic of lung cancer. The anti-tobacco campaign must be understood against the backdrop of the Nazi quest for racial and bodily purity, which also motivated many other public health efforts of the era.

Medical historians in recent years have done a great deal to enlarge our understanding of medicine and public health in Nazi Germany. We know that about half of all doctors joined the Nazi party and that doctors played a major part in designing and administering the Nazi programmes of forcible sterilisation, “euthanasia,” and the industrial scale murder of Jews and gypsies.1 2 Much of our present day concern for the abuse of humans used in experiments stems from the extreme brutality many German doctors showed towards concentration camp prisoners exploited to advance the cause of German military medicine.3

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, characterising tobacco as “the wrath of the Red Man against the White Man for having been given hard liquor.” At …

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