World War II: Economics: Agriculture--Tobacco

German soldier photography
Figure 1.-- German soldiers invading the Soviet Union gave the boys here cigarettes and took their photographs, thinking that it was humerous. We see other exampes of this in German soldier pgotography. Many German soldiers made albums of their military exploits. The soldier here has written "Russische Bengel" on his snapshot. The dealer thought this meant 'Russian ruffians' A HBC reader tells us 'Russian urchins' is a better translation. Smoking was not something boys did in Germany and was even looked down on for teenagers. It apprently helped to confirm their idea that Russian and the Russians were backward and uncivilized. What we are unsure of is why Russian boys seemed to enjoy cigarettes. Here we are not talking about teenagers, but primary-school age boys. There was in the Soviet Union before the German invasion a shortage of just about all consumer goods. This presumably would have included cigarettes, although we do not yet have information on availability. If cigarettes were hard to obtain before the German invasion, we suspect that few boys would have picked up the smoking habit. So we are unsure why so many boys seem to have enjoyed the cigarettes given to them by the Germans. Images like this are actually little historical documents. They not only provided historical evidence, in this case how peole inclusing children were licing iun great poverty. The photographsals provide clues as tgo whatwas in the hearts of the German soldiers smashing into the Soviet Union. Both the selectioin of subjects and in this case the comment written on the photograph provide clues, although the interpretation is much more subjective and there is no way of relly knowing. We can, however, speculate. Click on the image for a fuller discussion.

Tobacco was not a vital commodity, but it was widely coveted by soldiers and civilians. Tobacco had no outcome on the War, but it did play a role in the lives of the soldiers during the War and would have important consequences for public health after the War. Surprisinhly it would be the NAZIs of all people to first make the connection between smoking and lung cancer. Soldiers were provided cigarettes in all the World War II militaries, but access to tobacco varied significantly from country to country. German soldiers were not very impressed with some American weapons, but they did covet American cigarettes. Smoking was popular before World War, but the two world wars significantly increased the number of smokers, both men and especially among women. After the War, cigarettes became a virtual currency in occupied Germany.


Britain did not grow its own tobacco. There were important British tobacco companies manufacturing cigarettes, but they used imported tobacco. Tonacco was imported from America and the colonies. After the War began the British had to give priority to food and war material. In addition, Britain's weakening economic situation meant that the government had to limit the purchase of non-essentials. This is why sugar was so hard to obtin in Britain during the War. We have heard reports that British cigarettes during the War were awful, but have few details.


Tobacco could be grown in France, although governments for some time restricted tobacco farmiing by granting monopolies. The first commercially produced cigarettes were manufactured in France by the State-run Manufacture Francaise des Tabacs. we have not yet been able to find informtion on the French tobacco industry during World War II. After the fall of France (1940), under the terms of the Franco-Germn armistic, France had to py massive reprations to the Germans. This was paid by shipments of a wide range of food and manufactured goods shipped to Germany. The extentbof the reparations were made extrodinarily inerous by a wildely inflated exchange rate. We suspect that a substantial portion of French cigarette production was part of these reparation shipments, but we do not yet have any actual data..


As in other countries, smoking in Germany increased as a result of World War I. Some tobacco was grown in Germany, but we are not sure about how much and the quality of the tobacco grown there. We believe that most of the tobacco used in the manufcturer of cigarettes was imported, although we have few details at this time. The German cigarette industry faced hurdles after the NAZIs seized power (1933). First, there was the ideological problem. As part of the Master Race ideology, the NAZIs set about instilling the idea that each German had the responsiblty to maintain a healty body so he could play his or her part in the Darwininan survival of the fitest struggle he was unleashing. As a result, the NAZIs discoraged smoking despite the fact that many top NAZI other than Hitler smoked. (Hitler was the only important World War II leader that was a non-smoker.) He even ordered Propaganda Minister Goebels to air brush out cigarettes in photographs of NAZI officials published in newspapers and magazines. The Hitler Youth organization was used for anti-smoking education. he NAZIs especially looked down on women smoking , primarily because it would affect their health and reproductive capabilitties. The Federation of German Women launch a campaign against tobacco and alcohol abuse (1942). Restaurants and cafes were ordered not to sell cigarettes to female customers. The Government prohibited the use of tobacco in public places by minors (persons under 18 years of age) (1943). Second, independent of the NAZIs, German medical researchers were establishing the first statictical connection between smoking and lung cancer. Some of the researchers involved were also deeply involved in 'racial hygenics'. Third, shifting the German economy to a near war footing meant that export earmings were adversely affected. This reduced Germny's foreign exchange earnings. Germany was short of many resources needed for arms production, meaning foreign exchange was needed for purchasing oil and a range of critical materials. As a result, NAZI officials had to tightly control the use of foreign exchnge. Tobacco of course was not high on their priorities. We do not know yet how this affected the production and quality of German cigarettes. The NAZis launched the world's first anti-smoling campaign. The Jews were accused of introducing smoking to Germany. Smoking was restricted in public places and on public transport. Despite the agressive anti-smoking campign, smoking increased during the NAZI era. Once the War began, importing tobacco from important producer countries was no longer possible and the foreign exchange. Tobacco was available from Turkey, by the primary focus was on obtaining chrome. And Hitler was unwilling to provide what the Turks most wanted--advanced military equipment. Cigarette companies tried to maintain production by adding material to the avilable tobacco supplies. One source says that horse hair was one of those materials. Despite the anti-smoking campaign, cigarettes were included in soldier's rations with the goal of maintaining morale. Most accounts indivate that the German war-time cigarettes were nothing short of awful. German researchers began experimenting with nicotine-free tobacco (1940). German soldies were not impressed by some Ametican arms, specially the Sherman tank, but they were impressed with Ametican cigarettes. German cigarette consumption increased during the war until the German war economy began to collapse as a result of the strategic bombing campaign (late-1944). We note that youths in the 12th-SS Panzer Division (the Hitler Youth Dicision) were issued sweets rather than cigarettes. We are not sure if this reflected what the boys wanted or a desire to keep cigatettes away from youth. After the War and the collaspse of the Reich Mark. Cigatettes and chocolate became a kind of second currency in occupied Germany.


Tobacco developed as an impotant crop in Italy, larfely because of the climate. Kentucky tobacco was imported from America and its cultivation quickly spread across Italy due the success of the Toscano cigars (late-18th century). The various taxation and regulations regimes of the differnt Italian states complicated the developmenf n importnt industry. The unification of the Kingdom of Italy resulted in greater stability in the cultivation, processing, and marketing of tobacco as well as the creation of a larger market (1861). Italy became the most important tobacco producing country in Europe. The Fascists as part of their corporate state ideology created a state monopoly for tobacco--the Amministrazione Autonoma dei Monopoli di Stato (Administration of the State Monopoly Autonomy--AAMS) (1927). It was a unit of the Ministry of Finance. It mamufactured cigarettes under license in Italy and distributed imported cigarettes in partnership with foreign manufacturers. The AAMS oversaw the production and marketing of all Italian tobacco and tobacco-based products. Its most important brand, and Italy's best-selling cigarette, was Monopoli Stato (State Monopoly--MS). Cigarettes were sold only at stores called 'Tabacchi' and the prices were fixed by the AAMS. Italian tobacconists signed 9-year contracts with the AAMS for their licenses. We have no information at this time on how the Itlian tobacco industry fared during World War II or the use of tobacco in the Italian military. Hopefully some of our Italian readers will have some information.


The Japanese Government established a tobacco leaf tax to obtain needed revenue (1898). The Government only a few years later established a monomply toboacco company (1904). This included manufacturing like cigarette prodiction. The reason given was to help fund the Russo-Japanese War. This action included the expulsion of foreign tobacco interests and the banning of imports. As far as we know, the Japanese produced their own tobacco, although we are not sure just where. Presumaby it wa Kyushu, Okinwa, or Formosa (Taiwan). The Government replaced English names on cigarette packs with Japanese ones as part of a nationwide campaign to reduce all foreign influences (1940). We do not know if the Japanese maiuntained cigarette prouction or converted tobbaco fiekds to fod production. We know that the Japanese soldiers like the other combatants liked to smoke. They were in an even worse position than the Germans. Japanese garrisons thriughout the Pacific were cut off as the American naval offensiuve surged west toward the Home Islands. Thousands starved to death and the survivors had to endure the duration without any tobacco. An iconic image from Iwo Jima shows a young Japanese soldier almost complerely buried in a bomb crater and after failing at suicide accepting a cigarette from a Marine. After the War, bands of Japanese soldiers held out in the Philippines and various Pacific islands. One of the hold outs tells of making cigarettes from crushed, dried papaya leaves wrapped in banana leaves.

Soviet Union

We do not know much at this time about the Soviet tobacco industry. Stalin was a smoker and there was no anti-smoking campaign before the War. The Soviets had an economic policy of autarky (economic self-suffiency). We do not know much about Soviet tobaco production, but believe it was grown in Georgia. We do not know how common smoking was in the Soviet Union or the extent of gender differences. As far as we can tell it was something the Red army soldiers wanted. We do not know how large the cigarette industy was. Apparently it was not very large. We know that Red Army soldiers carried smoking pouches with tobacco and paper to roll their own cigarette. And we notice numerous types of Soviet World War II era tobacco boxes. We do not know how common this was as opposed to obtaining cigarette rations. One source describes the Red Army tobacco ration as 0.7 oz. That is 7 oz of tobacco, not factory produced cigatrettes. One curious related topic is that German soldiers invading the Soviet Union would give boys cigarettes and take their photographs, thinking that it was humerous. This is not something they did in Germany. It apprently helped to confirm their idea that Russian and the Russians were backward and uncivilized. What we are unsure of is why Russian boys seemed to enjoy cigarettes. Here we are not talking bout teenagers, but primary-school age boys. There was in the Soviet Union before the German invasion a shortage of just about all consumer goods. This presumably would have included cigarettes, although we do not yet have information on availability. If cigarettes were hard to obtain befire the German invasion, we suspect that few boys would have picked up the smoking habit. So we are unsure why so many boys seem to have enjoyed the cigarettes given to them by the Germans.

United States

Tobacco was one of the most important crops in the southern United States. The United States was World War II smokers heaven. President Roosevelt, a heavy smoker himsekf, made tobacco a protected crop (1942). High quality cigarettes were available in large quantity and at low prices. There was no Government anti-smoking campaigns. The United States produced 300 billion cigarettes (1944), an all time high up to that date. Cigarettes unlike food were not rationed at home, but were not always available, especially if the smoker was intent on finding his brand. Some 75 percent of production was provided to the military, some of it for free. Free cigaettes were given out in military hospitals. Soldiers overseas found a small pack of cigarettes in his C-rations. Garrison soldiers had to buy their smokes, but they were only 5 cents a pack. This easy availability to soldiers had the impact of increasing the number if smokers as it had during World War I. And it was not just increasing the number of men smoking. World War I had played a role in increasing the independence of women. This was even more true of women during World War II. This time the War lasted longer, especially for America, and many more men were deployed overseas. Thus women were needed in factories to provide the work force needed to expand production. With husbands away and factory workers often away from their families, many women began smoking. Thus after the War, there were millions of new consumers. One very positive aspect of cigarettes is that they were included in Red Cross packages to POWs. These packages did not get through to the men held by the Japanese, but they did get through to the men captured by the Germans. These packages not only helped to supplement the meager German food allocations, but chocolate and cigarettes could be traded with the guards for needed food. They were a hot item. Not only were cigarettes increaingly hard to come by in Germany, but the American cigarettes were real tobacco smokes not like the German cigarettes with Ersatz items mixed in with the tobacco to maintain production levels. Cigarettes thus saved many American lives.


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Created: 11:23 PM 11/1/2014
Last updated: 8:09 PM 11/6/2014