From the vantage point of a late-twentieth-century observer, the public Health policies of the National Socialists who ruled Germany from 1933 to 1945 seem surprisingly modern. Those policies are illuminated in Robert N. Proctor's most recent work, The Nazi War on Cancer (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1999), which documents the war on cancer and other public health campaigns by the Nazis. A historian of science at Pennsylvania State University, Proctor has written extensively on medicine, public health, and their relations with politics and, especially, with National Socialism.
The Nazi government was known, and admired, for implementing the most progressive public health policies of its time. State-of-the-art research and regulation were applied to occupational, environmental, and lifestyle diseases. Cancer was declared "the number one enemy of the state." Nazi policy favored natural food and opposed fat, sugar, alcohol, and sedentary lifestyles. The existing temperance movement against alcohol and tobacco became more active under the Nazis, who were involved in what Proctor calls "creating a secure and sanitary utopia."
Not surprisingly, American narcotics officials of the time admired the Nazi war on drugs. Today, admiration would probably go in the other direction.
The longest chapter of Proctor's book is devoted to tobacco, "a focus justified," explains the author, "by the startling fact--heretofore unnoficed--that Nazi Germany had the world's strongest antismoking campaign and the world's most sophisticated tobacco disease epidemiology" (pp. 9-10). It is well known that Adolf Hitler himself was a rabid antismoker, but the antismoking movement and interventionist public policies of the Nazi era involved much more than Hitler's personal whims. Tobacco was attacked as a "relic of a liberal lifestyle" and as "masturbation of the lungs." It was in Nazi Germany that medical researchers, some with strong Nazi connections, first established a statistical link between smoking and lung cancer. Antismoking crusaders published magazines like Auf der Wacht (On Guard) and Reine Luft (Pure Air). Half a century before the Environmental Protection Agency enlisted junk science against "environmental tobacco smoke," antitobacco activist Dr. Fritz Lickint coined the term "passive smoking." (He also thought that coffee was a carcinogen!)
Many antismoking controls were enacted, including restrictions on Advertising and bans on smoking in many...