Good Things That Came From Bad People: Hitler’s Anti-Smoking Campaign

Written by Karma Chesnut on . Posted in Culture

The popular consensus is that Nazis are bad. Maybe I’m over-generalizing, but I’m inclined to think genocide is looked down upon in most societies. Also continuously losing popularity? Smoking. What do these two menaces have to do with each other? Wait for it…

Apparently, Adolf Hitler use to smoke. That is, until he realized that it was having negative effects on his health. (Sorry, Hitler, but for some reason I don’t feel that bad for you.) Thus began the Nazi anti-smoking campaign. Starting in the mid- to late-1930’s, this happened to be the first public anti-smoking campaign ever. Hitler is quoted as referring to tobacco as “the wrath of the Red Man against the White Man.” Of course, only Hitler could find a way to make not smoking seem racist.

Smoking was first banned in workplaces, government offices, hospitals and rest homes, then it became illegal to smoke if you held an authoritative government position (mainly police officers, SS officers, and on-duty soldiers). By 1943, it was illegal for anyone under the age of 18 to smoke in public.

Eventually, anti-smoking laws were enforced according to gender. Hitler, who “worried about [the] exposure of young female conductors to tobacco smoke,” banned smoking on German city public transportation and, during the war, tobacco rations were denied to all pregnant women and to all women below the age of 25. It was even illegal for businesses to sell tobacco to women. It would be fair to say Hitler was invested in female health because he wanted his next generation of groupies to be strong and healthy — requiring a strong, healthy and tar-free vessel.

It wasn’t until April 1970 that the U.S. Congress passed the Public Health Cigarette Smoking Act and banned cigarette advertising on television and radio — jumping on the bandwagon at least a good 25 years after the Nazis. Sure, the lets-not-die-of-lung-cancer movement was originally backed by body and racial purity sentiments and infringed on basic human rights, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t a good idea.


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Karma writes about Culture, Movies, and TV for Rhombus Magazine. A native of Seattle, fan of all things nerdy and graduate of Anthropology from Brigham Young University. She can be found on twitter @KarmaMarieC.