Anti-tobacco movement in Nazi Germany

A Nazi-era anti-smoking ad titled "The chain-smoker" reading: "He does not devour it, it devours him" (from the anti-tobacco publication Reine Luft, 1941;23:90)[1]

In the early 20th century, German researchers made advances in linking smoking to health harms,[2][3][1] which strengthened the anti-tobacco movement in the Weimar Republic[4] and led to a state-supported anti-smoking campaign.[5] Early anti-tobacco movements grew in many nations from the middle of the 19th century.[6][7] The 1933–1945 anti-tobacco campaigns in Nazi Germany have been widely publicized,[8][9][10] although stronger laws than those passed in Germany were passed in some American states, the UK, and elsewhere between 1890 and 1930.[11][12] After 1941, anti-tobacco campaigns were restricted by the Nazi government.[9]

The German movement was the most powerful anti-smoking movement in the world during the 1930s and early 1940s.[1] However, tobacco control policy was incoherent and ineffective, with uncoordinated and often regional efforts by many actors. Obvious measures were not taken, and existing measures were not enforced. Some[9] Nazi leaders condemned smoking[13] and several of them openly criticized tobacco consumption,[1] but others publicly smoked and denied that it was harmful.[9] There was much research on smoking and its effects on health during Nazi rule,[14] and it was the most important of its type at that time;[15] but a directly-supported tobacco research institute produced work of only marginal scientific importance.[16] Adolf Hitler's personal distaste for tobacco[17] and the Nazi reproductive policies were among the motivating factors behind the Nazi campaigns against smoking.[18]

The Nazi anti-tobacco campaign included banning smoking in trams, buses, and city trains,[1] promoting health education,[19] limiting cigarette rations in the Wehrmacht, organizing medical lectures for soldiers, and raising the tobacco tax.[1] The Nazis also imposed restrictions on tobacco advertising and smoking in public spaces, and regulated restaurants and coffeehouses.[1] These measures were widely circumvented or ignored.[9]

The movement did not reduce the number of smokers. Tobacco use increased rapidly in the early years of the Nazi regime, between 1933 and 1939.[20] The number of smokers increased from 1939 to 1945, but cigarette consumption declined;[9][21] rationing towards the end of the war[9] and post-war poverty[1] meant that the increasing numbers of smokers could not buy as many cigarettes.[9] Even by the end of the 20th century, the anti-smoking movement in Germany had not attained the influence of the Nazi anti-smoking campaign. Germany has some of the weakest tobacco control measures in Europe, and German tobacco research has been described as "muted".[20]


An 1898 cartoon of a train in Bavaria. Woman: Smoking isn't allowed in this compartment, it clearly says "For non-smokers" outside! Smoker: But we aren't smoking outside, we're smoking inside!

Anti-smoking measures have a long history in German-speaking areas. For instance, in 1840, the Prussian government re-instated a ban on smoking in public places.[9] The 1880s invention of automated cigarette-making machinery in the American South made it possible to mass-produce cigarettes at low cost, and smoking became common in Western countries. This led to a backlash and a tobacco prohibition movement, which challenged tobacco use as harmful and brought about some bans on tobacco sale and use.[22][23][24]

The German Empire also had anti-tobacco sentiment in the early 20th century. 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 only a brief period. 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.[25]

After World War I, anti-tobacco movements continued in the German Weimar republic, against a background of increasing medical research. German researchers were heavily involved with early research into tobacco harms. In the 1920s and 1930s, the Weimar Republic was at the cutting edge of tobacco research.[12]

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.[25] 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. Deutscher Tabakgegner (German Tobacco Opponent) was published in Dresden from 1919 to 1935, and was the second journal on this subject.[26] Anti-tobacco organizations were often also against consumption of alcoholic beverages.[27]

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