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"Nazis Hit Alcohol, Tobacco"

An American newspaper describes efforts by the Nazi regime to discourage Germans consumption of alcohol and tobacco.
Twin Falls News

As modern medical science and new understandings of public health developed in the early 20th century, health care providers in countries throughout the world joined campaigns to reduce or ban the consumption of alcohol or tobacco. During the years of the Weimar Republic (1918–1933), German scientists began studying the effects of tobacco use on people’s health, and public health propaganda urged Germans not to spend all of their free time drinking and smoking.1

Health campaigns in Nazi Germany also encouraged Germans to limit or stop their consumption of alcohol and tobacco, but official attitudes and policies were complex.2 Well aware of the social backlash produced by the prohibition of alcohol in the United States in the 1920s and early 1930s, Nazi leaders were concerned about the possibility of social unrest if the regime banned all alcohol and tobacco products. Nazi propaganda highlighted the fact that Adolf Hitler neither smoked nor drank, but the SA (Sturmabteilung, or Storm Troopers) actually produced their own brand of “Storm Cigarettes” in the early 1930s.3

The Nazi regime collected large sums from taxes on alcohol, even as Nazi policies persecuted people diagnosed with alcoholism as “asocial” and “work-shy”—especially those without a fixed address. Some German citizens labeled as alcoholics were subject to forcible sterilization after the passage of the Law for the Prevention of Genetically Diseased Offspring in July 1943, and they were among those systematically murdered in the regime’s so-called “euthanasia program” beginning in 1939.4

The featured newspaper article was published on March 4, 1939 in The Twin Falls News of Twin Falls, Idaho. Detailed information about Nazi policies—including persecution and mass murder—was widely reported in local newspapers throughout the United States in the 1930s and 1940s.5 This article describes the announcement of a new public health campaign six months before German forces invaded Poland. At a large medical conference on “public health and harmful indulgences,” Nazi health officials introduced a series of initiatives to support the regime’s slogan, “wholesome life is a national duty.” Primarily aimed at German youth, this campaign promoted the production of non-alcoholic beverages, urged young people to abstain completely from drinking or smoking, and called for “physical exercise for the entire nation."6

The Nazi regime sponsored extensive campaigns against smoking and drinking, but these efforts had mixed results. The first scientific connections between smoking, addiction, and lung cancer were made in Nazi Germany in the 1930s.7 Smoking was banned in many public spaces, but the German army continued to provide German soldiers with cigarettes throughout World War II. German soldiers and police who participated in mass murders during the Holocaust routinely received extra rations of alcohol.8 Although public health officials and Nazi propaganda urged Germans not to drink or smoke, German consumption of both alcohol and tobacco actually rose overall during the first several years of the Nazi regime.9

To learn more about the influence that Weimar-era public health policies on the development of Nazi public health priorities, see the Experiencing History item, "Born from Necessity."

To learn more, see Robert N. Proctor, "The Campaign against Tobacco," in The Nazi War on Cancer (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1999): 173–247.

Somewhat ironically, given Hitler's reputation as a vegetarian and teetotaler, some German companies marketed a series of commemorative "cigarette cards" bearing his image. The cards came included as collectibles in cigarette packets.

Nazi persecution of people diagnosed with alcoholism was based on theories of eugenics that were popular in many countries, including the United States. To learn more about the connections between Nazi Germany and eugenics in the United States, see the Experiencing History item, Dr. Harry H. Laughlin to Dr. Carl Schneider. For more on Nazi views on alcoholism and drug addiction, see Jonathan Lewy, "A Biological Threat or a Social Disease? Alcoholism and Drug Addiction in Nazi Germany," Journal of European Studies 39, no. 3 (September 2009): 371–85. 

To learn more, see the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum’s citizen history project, History Unfolded.

Exercise was an important element of Nazi public health policies. To learn more, see the Experiencing History items, Hitler Youth Training Film, "Healthy Woman - Healthy Nation," and "Sexually Transmitted Disease Is an Obstacle to Marriage."

To learn more about cancer and the Nazi regime, see the related Experiencing History item, "One in Eight."

For more on the role of alcohol in Nazi persecution and mass murder, see Edward B. Westermann, Drunk on Genocide: Alcohol and Mass Murder in Nazi Germany (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2021).

German consumption of both commodities began to rise after 1933 but fell again when the tide of World War II turned against Germany and began causing multiple supply shortages. 

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Archival Information for This Item

Source (Credit)
Twin Falls News
Date Created
March 4, 1939
Page(s) 1
Twin Falls, Idaho
Document Type Newspaper Article
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