NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

The First "War On Cancer"

March 20, 2000

"The first serious 'war on cancer' was not launched by President Nixon in 1972 following the 1964 Surgeon General's Report on Smoking, but rather began in Nazi Germany four decades earlier," says Peter Drotman in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Reviewing Robert N. Proctor's "The Nazi War on Cancer," Drotman notes the disturbing irony of an evil regime undertaking medical research and enacting measures that the public health community considers "progressive."

  • For instance, the Nazi regime undertook "progressive and science-based approaches to occupational exposures to carcinogens (radioactive substances, asbestos and dyes), diet and tobacco control."
  • It also undertook pioneering epidemiologic studies in prewar and wartime Germany linking lung cancer and cigarette smoking.
  • And it was the first in the world to cover mesothelioma in asbestos workers, in 1943.

Yet while sponsoring research to benefit workers' health and discouraging smoking, the Nazis forcibly imported five million foreigners to work as slaves, and conducted the Holocaust.

In fact, Protor shows that "some of the most ardent antitobacco Nazis were also strident anti-Semites and strong proponents of euthanasia for the disabled and mentally ill." Hitler, Benito Mussolini and Francisco Franco were nonsmokers. "On the other hand, of the leaders of the major allied World War II, Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Joseph Stalin were cigarette smokers, and Churchill's fondness for cigars is legendary."

Adolf Hitler was an antivivisectionist and a vegetarian -- so vivisection of experimental animals was discouraged or banned, and an "organic," herbal farm produced all seasoning for the German army during the war. But the herb gardens were tended by Dachau concentration camp prisoners and vivisection and worse was allowed on human beings.

And the health-conscious SS even cornered the European market for mineral water.

Source: Robert N. Proctor, "The Nazi War on Cancer," Princeton University Press, 1999; reviewed by Peter Drotman, Journal of the American Medical Association, March 15, 2000.


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