Up in Smoke: The Nazi Anti-Tobacco Campaign

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‘So many excellent men have been lost to tobacco poisoning.’

 Adolf Hitler, 1942

Much historical study has been conducted into addressing the atrocities committed by the Nazi Regime from 1933 to 1945. However, considerably less attention has been dedicated to the Nazi anti-tobacco campaign, a relatively benign government policy, which importantly, was one of the first campaigns by a Western government designed to deal with health issues arising from tobacco use. This subject is particularly topical in the current climate, as many Western governments are attempting to reduce tobacco use among their own citizens. This paper will examine the first mass Western government campaign against tobacco and its ultimate failings.

Why were the Nazis so concerned to control the use of tobacco among its citizens? Is it possible that the Nazis were concerned with the wellbeing of some of its citizens? Or were more selfish motives involved?

This paper intends to address such questions and, in doing so, shed light on a subject that encompassed larger Nazi concerns with health and the Aryan ideology. The paper will firstly examine the background of the Nazi campaign against tobacco. Then paper will examine how Nazi concerns over health and ideology became intertwined with the campaign against tobacco, thus displaying the historical significance of this topic. In examining the effect of this campaign, the paper will detail how the Nazis attempted to curtail smoking and the relative lack of success of such attempts. Finally the paper will explore why the overall campaign failed.

Smoking Research in Pre-WW2 Germany

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It is unsurprising that an anti-tobacco campaign emerged in Germany in the 1930s. As Robert Proctor, one of the foremost historians on this subject, has argued, objections to smoking had existed in Germany both in academic and political circles for decades- even centuries. Indeed, one of the first anti-smoking organisations in Germany emerged in 1904, and by the 1920s calls existed in Germany from academics and also doctors to ban smoking for health reasons. Some German medical professionals were making great strides at this time in linking tobacco to health issues. For example, German doctor Lickint, in his 1929 case study, published one of the most thorough case studies at that time linking tobacco use and cancer. Lickint’s study showed that lung cancer patients were particularly likely to be smokers.

He also argued that tobacco use was the best way to explain the fact that lung cancer struck men four or five times more often than women (since women smoked much less). Such a study was motivated by a dramatic rise in lung cancer among Germans. For example, prior to 1900, there were 140 known cases of death by lung cancer worldwide. By the 1930s, lung cancer from smoking was the second highest killer of German men.  Lickint was not the only German physician interested in tobacco at this time; two papers, a 1939 article by Franz H. Müller and a 1943 paper by Eberhard Schairer and Erich Schöniger also presented convincing evidence that cigarettes were a major cause of lung cancer.

Armed with such studies, the Nazis had scientific backing for their campaign against tobacco. Importantly, Proctor has estimated that half of all German doctors from 1933 to 1945 joined the Nazi party, which undoubtedly gave an air of medical authority to Nazi health policies. Furthermore, from 1933 to 1938, more medical journals were published in Nazi Germany than any other Western European country, which illustrates the relative boom in medical studies in Germany at this time. Such journals included the Monatsschrift für Krebsbekämpfung or ‘Monthly Anti-Cancer Journal’, established in 1933, and dedicated to coordinating the anti-cancer research of German doctors. Such a journal was greatly needed, as more than a thousand medical doctoral theses exploring cancer in one form or another were published in Germany during the twelve years of Nazi rule. Thus, there had been an exponential growth in studies exploring the damage that tobacco caused in Germany, and cancer had become a topical issue when the Nazis first came to power in 1933. It must also be stated that Germany had suffered tremendous military losses during the First World War, which in part encouraged fear regarding population health and size. Such concerns were coupled with anxiety over Germany’s declining birth rate to create a political climate in which an anti-tobacco campaign could be fostered. It was on the basis of such concerns that the Nazi party in part argued against tobacco for health reasons.

Smoking and the Nazis

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Why were the Nazis concerned with tobacco use? Was it due to a compassionate interest in the publics’ health or due concerns over the current and future strength of German citizens?

Lemieux has argued the latter, postulating that fascist states need and are concerned with ‘strong human material’ for the survival of the regime. Indeed, Hitler himself certainly expressed such a view in his ‘magnum opus’, Mein Kampf, in which he argued that the future of the German State and public health were intrinsically linked. Such a view was re-affirmed by Hitler’s assertion in the same work that the struggle for existence allowed for only the healthy and strong to survive, thus displaying much of the Social Darwinism underpinning the Nazi desire for a healthy Aryan race. It is perhaps unsurprising then that under Hitler, Nazi Germany was actively concerned with public health and specifically the health of the Aryan race, or Volksgesundheit.

Such concerns were to influence the Nazi campaign against tobacco. For example, tobacco was thought by the Nazis to limit the military prowess of soldiers, something that was of course important for a country with a strong military background such as Germany. Nazi officials went so far as to declare that a good Aryan and a good soldier did ‘not have the right to damage his body with drugs’, such as tobacco. Thus, tobacco was seen to damage Germany’s might in many ways. It is important to note also that the figurehead of the movement, Adolf Hitler, was presented to the greater German populace as an ascetic of great political and business prowess, perhaps in the hope that others would follow the example set by the Führer. It was once written of Hitler that ‘our Führer Adolf Hitler drinks no alcohol and does not smoke…his performance at work is incredible’. Incidentally Hitler had been an avid smoker in his youth before he ‘tossed his cigarettes into the Danube and never reached for them again’. Thus, in their figurehead, the Nazi Government had a leader who, according to Nazi propaganda, had stopped smoking and become a man of great work. The Nazi Government’s anti-tobacco policy does  therefore appear to have been driven by in part concerns over the health of the German army and state.

Smoking and Race

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The health of German women also influenced the Nazi campaign against tobacco. Female participation in smoking was sharply criticised in Nazi Germany, as the requirement to secure a healthy race was seen to depend on a healthy female citizenry. Indeed, some scholars, such as Proctor, have argued that greater pressure was brought to bear on German women not to smoke even more so then men. At one point the President of the German Medical Association declared triumphantly that ‘German women don’t smoke’. Such concerns regarding the neo-natal dangers of smoking reflected a wider Nazi concern over the future of the Aryan race. Mein Kampf illustrated this where Hitler expressed himself greatly concerned with the survival of races, particularly the Aryan race. Concerns over the future of the Aryan race fostered an atmosphere in which the Nazis were highly interested in encouraging Aryan procreation.

Under the Nazi Regime, German women were encouraged to have as many healthy Aryan children as possible. Such was the reward for childbearing that German women were awarded the ‘Cross of Honour of the German Mother’ for giving birth to four or more children, with the highest honour, a first class medal, given to mothers of eight or more children. Government actively encouraged childbearing. A female citizenry whose health might be damaged by tobacco had wider implications for childbearing. Women needed to be healthy for the benefit of the Aryan race. In the eyes of many Nazi officials, an unhealthy female citizenry had a direct and negative correlation with the future of the Aryan race. Men were targeted too by the Nazi anti-tobacco campaign but to a lesser degree, with prominent Nazi members declaring that smoking caused men to be infertile. As shown above, infertility was considered counterproductive to the future of the Aryan race. The campaign against tobacco therefore complemented the wider Nazi concern of Gesundheitspflicht, or the duty to be healthy for the Aryan race. The Aryan Race, and the importance of its continuity, was an important factor in the Nazi anti-tobacco campaign. While health concerns in part contributed to the Nazi campaign against tobacco, the greater concern was certainly ideological, which this paper will now discuss.

An Ideological Battle?

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It is perhaps unsurprising that a State as ideologically charged, as Nazi Germany would link the campaign against tobacco with wider Nazi ideologies. This paper has already argued the importance of health to the Nazi regime, but scholars such as Coombs and Holladay have argued that the Nazis were more concerned with ideology than health in their campaign against tobacco. Indeed when one looks at the health concerns that the Nazis held regarding tobacco, the concerns very much fit into an idea of fostering a racial community on the basis of an ideological commitment to an Aryan race. Tobacco was almost the antithesis to the concept of an Aryan race. Smoking itself was an individualistic act, whereas the Nazis certainly believed in the health of the Aryan race rather than individual wellbeing.  For example, the Nazis at times required an almost unrelenting commitment to the idea of an Aryan race as a whole. Such a commitment was shown in contemporary concerns that the addictiveness of tobacco distracted Aryans from their dedication to the Führer and the Aryan race, elucidating this idea of the needs of the many outweighing the needs of the few. Coupled with this, the asceticism of the Führer was perhaps contrasted with the behaviour of those who smoked. Hitler was in many ways setting an example for the Aryan race in that he presented an image of a hardworking, non-smoking and non-drinking German. Hitler himself referred to smoking as ‘masturbation of the lungs’, suggesting hedonist behaviour among those who smoked.

The idea that tobacco not only represented something negative but something sinister is perhaps one of the most fascinating aspects of the Nazi campaign against tobacco. The anti-tobacco campaign became intertwined at times with wider Nazi Government policies of persecution. Smoking began to be associated under the Nazis with many of the people or ideas against whom the Nazis railed. For example, some in the Nazi party attempted to blame the Jews for the popularity of smoking in Germany. As noted, the popularity of smoking had greatly increased from the 1900s onwards and it was perhaps convenient for the Nazis to blame the Jewish Race for this, the Jews indeed being blamed by the Nazi Regime for many of Germany’s woes. Smoking was depicted as the habit of Jews, homosexuals and many other groups that were persecuted under the Nazis, showing how the campaign against smoking was at times juxtaposed with the Nazi Regime’s persecution of minorities. The importance of race was shown in Hitler’s assertion that tobacco was ‘the wrath of the Red Man (Native American Indians) against the White man for having been given hard liquor’, thus creating a dichotomy between races and tobacco.

Such ideological concerns interestingly crept into the speeches made by the Nazis. For example, Hitler regularly referred to Jews by using pseudo-medical terms such as tumours, poisons or cancerous, juxtaposing in some small way, the campaign against tobacco and the persecution of Jews. Such juxtaposition worried some German government ministers, with Economics Minister Walther Funk writing to the Führer in the early 1940s expressing his fear that tobacco workers would become likened to Jews as a result of the campaign against tobacco. This was a dangerous precedent for Funk, but it did show the stigma that was at times placed on the tobacco industry by the Nazis. Perhaps just as inflammatory for the Nazis, smoking also became associated with the ‘lifestyle of the liberals’ and the Weimar Republic, a time in Germany’s history from which the Nazis attempted to distance Germany. Having shown the objections that the Nazi party held against tobacco on ideological reasons, this paper will now consider the means by which the Nazis attempted to cut down on smoking in Germany.

Preventing Smoking: The case for propaganda, laws and taxes 

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The Nazi campaign against tobacco adopted a three pronged offensive spanning public propaganda, law and taxes.

Propaganda 

Propaganda took many guises. High profile medical officials, such as the President of the German Medical Association, publically opposed smoking and tobacco. However, as in other realms of political and social life in Germany, the Nazis greatest emphasis appeared to be placed on public criticisms and youth movements. Goodfellow and Waugh have detailed how the Nazis made great use of public broadcasting on radio in attempts to discourage tobacco consumption. Publications were also used. Leading health magazines, such as Gesundes Volk (Healthy People) carried the message that tobacco was damaging to one’s health, yet oddly, important popular German magazines also continued to carry tobacco advertisements, which this paper will deal with later. Nazi anti-tobacco posters were also a common sight in many German towns during this period. A caption from Reine Luft (Clean Air), a prominent journal for the anti-smoking campaign in Nazi Germany, in 1941 provides an example of the kind of visual propaganda used. It depicted a man being eaten by a cigarette with the caption ‘You don’t smoke it, it smokes you!’ (fig. 1).

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Fig 1. ‘The Chain Smoker: You don’t smoke it, it smokes you!’. Reine Luft, 23:90 (1941).

The youth of Germany were also harnessed in the campaign against tobacco. Smith has argued that the Nazis made a concentrated effort to spread their anti-tobacco message to Germany’s youth. According to Smith, the Nazi Government were able to spread anti-tobacco propaganda using youth movements such as the Hitler Youth and the League of German Girls. Even those children not involved in such movements were affected, as in some primary schools at least, the dangers of tobacco were taught directly to children as part of the school curriculum. The public pressure for Nazi members to be seen as non-smokers seems to have even reached the higher echelons of the Nazi party, with Goebbels, the Propaganda Minister for the Nazis, said to have made great efforts to hide his smoking in public in the later years of the Nazi Regime. Thus, the Nazis attempted to use public propaganda to discourage the use of tobacco in Germany.

Laws

Goodfellow and Waugh have argued that the Nazi campaign against tobacco began with propaganda campaigns, as highlighted above, and slowly progressed toward the Nazis introducing more stringent legal measures against tobacco in Germany. While the Nazi anti-tobacco campaign does not appear to have followed a linear, predetermined path, Proctor has found evidence that the campaign against tobacco was accelerated in the late 1930s, perhaps when the Nazis felt more secure in their power, before decelerating greatly as World War II dragged on. During the late 1930s, the Nazis certainly seemed to have made great strides in relation to laws governing tobacco use. While not banning tobacco outright, most likely due to its widespread popularity at the time, the Nazis attempted to make tobacco consumption increasingly more difficult. A few examples will elucidate this. The Nazi Government, once more displaying the importance of youth to the regime, legislated that smoking by anyone under the age of eighteen was a criminal offence. Attempts were made by the Nazis to ban smoking in many public areas, and stringent driving laws were introduced whereby, if a driver of a car involved in an accident was smoking at the time of the collision, he or she was charged with a criminal offence.

The laws governing rations were also used in an attempt to deter tobacco consumption. For example, during World War II, tobacco-rationing coupons were denied to pregnant women and restaurants were banned from selling tobacco to women. Rations for soldiers were likewise affected. Rations were distributed to troops in such a way as to deter tobacco use. Soldiers could exchange their tobacco coupons for extra chocolate or extra food. Letters from the Russian front by German soldiers exemplify some soldiers’ disaffected views on such a rationing system; ‘we receive 6 cigarettes a day, which is not very much’. Those still working in Germany also faced tobacco restrictions. For example, Himmler introduced a smoking ban for all uniformed police and SS members in the late 1930s. Therefore, it appeared, on a surface level at least, that the Nazis were attempting to ensure that every level of society was free from tobacco. The last measure they took in the fight against tobacco was to increase taxes on the product, something this paper will now examine.

Taxes

Using taxes as a deterrent was, in theory, one of the most effective ways of ensuring that tobacco consumption would decrease. The higher the tax, the theory went, the less demand the public would exhibit for tobacco due to cost increases. Taxes however were a double-edged sword for the Nazi regime. It was hoped that higher taxes would aid the Nazi anti-tobacco cause, but scholars such as Aly have argued that the Nazis were chary of breeding discontent among the public due to higher taxes and prices. Aly’s argument is given further credence by Berghoff’s anecdote that Hitler personally intervened in order to keep the price of bread low as a means of ensuring that the public did not become disgruntled due to rising costs. While it was feared by the Nazi Government that the German public would be very price sensitive to change in tobacco prices, increases in tax on tobacco did occur. Aly estimated that in 1939, the cost of tobacco rose twenty percent due to taxes and in 1941 the Nazis introduced a whopping fifty percent increase in the cost of tobacco through taxes. Proctor estimated that in 1941 the taxes on tobacco made up between eighty to ninety five percent of the retail price of tobacco. Proctor also estimated that in 1941, taxes on tobacco made up nearly one twelfth of the total tax revenue for the Nazis. Thus, the Nazis certainly attempted to curtail tobacco consumption through an increase in taxes on the product and seemed to have benefitted financially in doing so. Having detailed the measures that the Nazis introduced in an attempt to rid Germany of tobacco, this paper will now examine the success, or lack thereof, of the anti-tobacco campaign, and examine why.

Results?

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It is difficult to measure accurately the relative success of the Nazi anti-tobacco campaign, but such research as exists, suggests that the result was far from what was desired. During the first six years of Nazi rule, German smoking rates rose dramatically. In comparison with some of its neighbours, German smoking rates under the Nazis were equal to, if not greater than, other European countries. For example, between 1932 and 1939, the average number of cigarettes consumed per adult per year rose from 570 in 1932 to 900 in 1939 in Germany compared with 570 to 630 in France during the same period. Proctor in his research, argued that that while the proportion of men smoking in Germany during this time increased significantly, the overall consumption of tobacco decreased in Germany, perhaps due to a decrease in smoking among women. This, however, surely represented a hollow victory for the Nazis, and in itself is a disputable figure as it did not and could not take into into account tobacco obtained on the black market, something that would have been necessary for pregnant women and those under the age of eighteen.

Dostorvsky was kinder to the Nazis in his analysis of this time period, arguing that while the rate of tobacco consumption in Germany during this time appears to have increased, the Nazis did curtail tobacco consumption. Berghoff calculated that from 1932 to 1940, the consumption of cigarettes in Germany almost doubled. Proctor found that of 1000 servicemen surveyed in 1944, the proportion of soldiers smoking had increased (only 12.7% were non-smokers) while the total consumption of tobacco had decreased-by just over 14%, suggesting that supplies, rather than propaganda, had led to a decrease in the overall consumption of tobacco. For all the bluster exhibited by the Nazi regime regarding tobacco consumption, the results appear to have been relatively unsuccessful. For a regime attempting to propagate a healthy Aryan race that did not smoke, the growth of tobacco consumption, no matter how curtailed, surely represented a failure. This paper will now examine the reasons for this failure.

Examining the failures

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The failure of the Nazi anti-tobacco campaign was largely due to the fact that the Nazi campaign was rife with contradictions. For example, while the Nazis did use propaganda as an attempt to curtail tobacco consumption, Nazi magazines, such as Die SA, continued to published tobacco advertisements as late as 1940 and 1941. Even Völkischer Beobachter (Nationalist Observer), the Nazi magazine controlled by Goebbels and Hitler, advertised Reemtsma cigarettes, which at the time was Germany’s largest cigarette manufacturer. Proctor has attributed such a contradiction in the Nazi anti-tobacco campaign to the power of the cigarette industry in Nazi Germany at this time, but that does not adequately explain other inconsistencies within the Nazi campaign. Cigarettes were often given to peoples deemed by the Nazi regime to be ‘deserving groups’, such as ‘good Aryans’ or soldiers. In fact, members of the Hitler Youth and League of German Girls were at times paid in cigarettes. Perhaps even more confusing was the fact that soldiers were permitted to confiscate cigarettes from occupied countries. Such inconsistencies appear to have very little to do with the tobacco industry, as confiscated cigarettes were surely detrimental to the indigenous German tobacco companies. These contradictions were highly inconsistent with the Nazi goal of an Aryan race that was free from addiction such as smoking. Interestingly, also, is the fact that after the Anschluss (Connection) in 1938 with Austria, the Nazis did not ban tobacco in Austria.

There appears then to have been no consistency within the Nazi campaign against tobacco, and this paper argues that it is this that accounted for the failure of the anti-tobacco campaign. For example, there was no Government Ministry solely dedicated to the anti-tobacco campaign. The Ministry of Science and Education, the Reich Health Office and even a Bureau Against the Hazards of Alcohol and Tobacco all attempted to tackle tobacco use at some point. It should be noted that some scholars, such as Coombs and Holladay, have argued that smoking represented a small act of resistance against the Nazis, yet the evidence must surely look towards the failure of the Nazis to implement a consistent campaign. Indeed the Nazi regime was famed at times for its inherent contradictions. Lest one forgot a popular joke of the Third Reich: ‘What does a true Aryan look like? A true Aryan is tall like Goebbels, thin like Goering and blond like Hitler!’ Thus, despite the campaign of the Nazis to eradicate tobacco use, the later actions appear in fact to have been misguided and mishandled. A substance as addictive as tobacco requires great efforts to tackle and overcome its deleterious effects. It appears that other issues, such as the growing militarisation in Germany at this time directed attention and resources away from the anti-tobacco campaign. In the view of this paper, this is what led to the failure of the Nazi anti-tobacco campaign.

Summing up

This paper’s intention was to shed light on the Nazi campaign against tobacco. In doing so, the paper firstly examined the background of the Nazi campaign against tobacco. The paper then examined how Nazi concerns over health and ideology became intertwined with the campaign against tobacco, thus displaying the historical significance of this topic. Finally, in examining the effect of this campaign, the paper detailed how the Nazis attempted to curtail smoking and the relative lack of success of such attempts. Thus, it was argued that Nazi attempts to discourage smoking largely failed. Mark Twain is credited with once saying ‘giving up smoking is the easiest thing in the world. I know because I’ve done it thousands of times’. It appears that for the Nazis, the anti-tobacco campaign was easy in formulation but difficult in execution. It is interesting to note that some of the tools employed in the Nazi campaign against tobacco are currently being employed by many democratic Western Regimes. While the Nazi campaign failed, modern democracies appear to offer more help and assistance in helping overcome tobacco addiction, although it is perhaps the case that the mass public are more accepting of the dangers of tobacco. Time will tell whether modern democracies have learnt from the mistakes of the Nazi campaign against tobacco.

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