Objective: Reluctance to develop effective tobacco control measures in Germany has been attributed to the anti-smoking stance taken by the Nazis, which has encouraged pro-smoking groups to equate tobacco control advocacy with totalitarianism. This paper reassesses the scale and nature of tobacco control in Germany during the Third Reich.
Study design and methods: Analysis of documents and reports about the situation in Germany in the 1930s and 1940s supplemented by a review of Reich legal ordinances, party newspapers, health behaviour guidelines issued by Nazi party organizations, and interviews with expert informants.
Results: While there was considerable opposition to smoking in Nazi Germany, there was no consistent Nazi policy to combat smoking, and what did exist built on pre-existing policies. Although extreme measures were taken in isolated localities or by overzealous party members, there was a marked ambivalence to tobacco control at the highest levels. Many policies were contradictory; measures were often not enforced, and cigarettes were actively distributed to 'deserving' groups.
Conclusion: Policies on tobacco in Nazi Germany are much more complex than is often represented by those who invoke them to condemn those seeking to reduce the burden of disease caused by smoking.