THE NAZI CAMPAIGN AGAINST TOBACCO
Science in a Totalitarian State
Robert N. Proctor
IN MY RECENT BOOK, The Nazi War on Cancer, I explored the curious and heretofore unnoticed fact that the Nazis launched the world’s most aggressive anticancer campaign, encompassing bans on carcinogens in food and water, restrictions on the use of asbestos and other carcinogens in the workplace, and novel dietary and chemical therapeutics.1 I was interested to learn why soybeans were declared “Nazi beans,” and how Germany became the first nation to recognize lung cancer and mesothelioma as compensable, asbestos-induced occupational diseases. I looked at the rhetoric of cancer research. It includes the use of reversible metaphors such as “cancer as Jew,” “Jew as tumor,” “cancer as communist cell,” “communist cell as cancer”; the profusion of “ectomies” and “otomies” (lobotomy, chordotomy, laparotomy); and the surprisingly widespread rhetoric of “final solutions.” I was interested in why the word “enlightenment” was used more in the Nazi period than at any other time, but also in the political contours of medical memory, the things we tend to forget about life and science—all part of my larger interest in structural apathies, communities of disinterest, and the social production of ignorance (what I call “agnatology”).
A particularly important aspect of the Nazi war on cancer was the campaign against tobacco. The approach here is somewhat different from what one normally encounters in studies of Nazi medicine. Medical historians are by and large familiar with efforts by the German medical profession to suppress knowledge of the complicity of physicians in the crimes of the Third Reich—sterilization, “euthanasia,” abusive experimentation, and so forth. This essay considers a different kind of