Wednesday, March 26, 2008

The Nazi anti-tobacco campaign

I’ve been reading an interesting article published in the British Medical Journal. The article was written by Robert N. Proctor, Department of History, Pennsylvania State University. It appears to be an even handed exploration of the anti-smoking policies of the German Nazi party in the 1930/40 era. But, I’m still not sure what to make of it.

According to the professor, “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.”

Professor Proctor goes on, “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. Hitler was the most adamant, characterizing tobacco as ‘the wrath of the Red Man against the White Man for having been given hard liquor’."

And, further, “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.”

To-day, there is little doubt that active smoking contributes significantly to the numbers dying from various forms of cancer annually. There is, likewise, little doubt that the tobacco companies have been less than honest in communicating the very real hazards of active smoking to the consumers of tobacco products. And, they have been paying the price in that regard.

Professor Proctor also notes that, “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."

But, the Nazis were, unquestionably, fanatics. And, the anti-smoker movement today is both fanatic and unscientific. They doggedly exaggerate and distort the science surrounding the potential hazards of secondhand smoke in their efforts to demonize smokers.

I would oppose any suggestion that, because Nazi epidemiologists had identified tobacco as a carcinogen over half a century ago, that Nazi style policies and propaganda are permissible tobacco control measures in the twenty-first century.

The Nazi regime had few qualms about abusing personal liberties, usually with extreme brutality. Many of the “tobacco control” measures being initiated by anti-smoker activists are only slightly less brutal. Efforts to have smokers fired for smoking on their own time, to have smokers denied rental accommodation, to have smoking parents branded as child abusers and even to have smokers denied appropriate medical care, are extreme measures.

Many of today’s anti-smoker fanatics deserve the label “fascist”. They’ve earned it. The end can never justify the means.

The full article by Robert Proctor is available in the archives of The British Medical Journal.
The anti-tobacco campaign of the Nazis

No comments: