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Germany has a long record of pro-tobacco industry activities and weak tobacco control policies.1–3 In contrast, during the Nazi era in the 1930s and 1940s, Germany promoted smoke-free public places, advertising restrictions and epidemiology linking smoking to lung cancer, infertility and heart disease.4–7 Although the Nazi approach to tobacco control was ambivalent and complex, often building on pre-existing policies and with poor enforcement,8 9 the association with the Nazis has been widely suggested as one reason for Germany’s modern weakness on tobacco control.10–12 Although Proctor cautioned against the oversimplistic interpretation of his work in The Nazi War on Cancer5 and emphasised that the introduction of tobacco control measures by the Nazis did not make tobacco control inherently fascist,4 the tobacco industry and its front groups abused and distorted history to condemn tobacco control measures as Nazi policies and its advocates as “health fascists.”8
Plans to introduce smoke-free environments in several German states by January 2008 fuelled an extensive public debate, including cover articles in the major national news magazines Der Spiegel13 and Der Stern.14 Libertarian pro-tobacco activists started using “Nazi” rhetoric to discredit journalists and public health experts.10 15 16 Analogies with Nazi symbols, including the use of the yellow Star of David on a pro-smoking T-shirt (fig 1) and in a TV news broadcast, were used to liken the treatment of smokers to the stigmatisation and discrimination of Jews under the Nazis.17–19 Against the background of Germany’s history, these accusations are particularly charged.
Members of the German subsidiary of the US smokers’ rights organisation Fight Ordinances and Restrictions to Control and Eliminate Smoking (FORCES), Netzwerk Rauchen—Forces Germany eV, discussed suing a German tobacco control champion and head of the …
Competing interests: None.
Funding: This work was supported by the National Cancer Institute (grants CA-113710 and CA-87472). The funding agency played no part in the conduct of the research or in the preparation or revision of the manuscript.
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