On playing the Nazi card
- Professor Robert N Proctor, Stanford University, History Department, CA 94305, USA;
Schneider and Glantz in this issue (see page 291) chronicle the industry’s longstanding efforts to characterise tobacco control as “Nazi” or “fascist”.1 The industry’s rant has a certain superficial plausibility: the Nazis had one of the world’s strongest anti-cancer campaigns, one central feature of which was to curtail tobacco use. Hitler himself stopped smoking in 1919, throwing his cigarettes into the Danube in an act of defiance he later credited for helping the triumph of Nazism. The three main fascist leaders of Europe (Hitler, Franco and Mussolini) all eschewed tobacco, whereas Roosevelt, Stalin and Churchill all were avid smokers.2
The tobacco industry finds such facts useful, which is why the front group FOREST (Freedom Organisation for the Right to Enjoy Smoking Tobacco) once offered my 1988 book, Racial Hygiene: Medicine Under the Nazis, for sale as “vital” for understanding “the statist and paternalist world view of the Nazis” and “the health fascism of contemporary anti-smoking and ‘health’ lobbies”.3 Schneider and Glantz rightly conclude that the industry’s interest in such matters has nothing to do with German history, nor with the realities of fascism, but rather with an opportunistic effort to do whatever it can to keep selling cigarettes.
The industry’s reductio ad Hitlerum is superficial, and ahistorical. The Nazis excelled at rocketry—does this mean that the Apollo mission was ballistic fascism? Many Nazis urged fitness and health through exercise: is jogging therefore athletic fascism? The fact that healthful or progressive policies were occasionally endorsed by the Nazis does not mean they are inherently fascist or oppressive.
The industry and its allies push the Nazi analogy, but they never probe it very far. They never point out that the German cigarette industry collaborated closely with the Nazi government (in confiscating tobacco firms in occupied territories, for …