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Rock'n' Roll Rebel

Jane Paulick
August 26, 2008

A pro-smoking campaign launched in Denmark by one of the country's best-known rockstars features a notorious Nazi slogan. The country's modest Jewish community is refusing to take offense.

A person putting out a cigarette
Smoking bans are the creations of "health fascists," Larson has saidImage: picture-alliance/dpa

As frontman of Gasolin', a seminal rock band which enjoyed its heyday in the 1970s, Kim Larsen has always been one of the bad boys of Danish rock. And like any self-respecting hellraiser, he's vociferously anti-establishment.

In the best rock 'n' roll tradition, he's also a die-hard smoker. So it comes as no surprise that he doesn't like the EU's anti-smoking laws introduced in Denmark one year ago, which ban smoking in public bars and restaurants.

Health fascists

A young man sits at a bus stop, in front of posters that read "Health Liberates"
Who reads billboards anyway?Image: DW

Not the type who likes being told what to do, Larsen recently helped fund an advertising campaign revolving around the slogan "Tillykke med rygeforbudet -- Gesundheit macht frei!!!"

The first claim means "good luck with the smoking ban" in Danish, while the German slogan "health sets you free" is an obvious allusion to the Nazi slogan "Arbeit macht frei," or "work sets you free," which was placed at the entrances to a number of Nazi concentration camps, such as Auschwitz and Dachau.

"The people who introduced the smoking ban are health fascists," Larsen has been quoted as saying.

He said the reference to the Third Reich is a valid one, because the Nazis introduced a nationwide tobacco ban as part of their quest for bodily and racial purity.

"Hitler was the first to ban smoking," said the one-time Eurovision Song Contest hopeful.

Cause celebre

Kim Larsen
Kim Larsen: too stupid to be taken seriously?Image: Kim Larsen & Kjukken / Stjernekasterne

Larsen allegedly isn't the only celebrity to have donated to the "Himmelbla" fund behind the campaign, whose ads are now splurged across Copenhagen's billboards.

"This is not about a defense of smoking," Larsen has said. "This is about a defense of democracy and freedom."

The country's Jewish community, for its part, is choosing to see the campaign in this context -- merely a clumsy protest against government interference with individual freedoms.

"It's stupid, plain stupid," Stefan Isaak, president of the Danish Jewish community, told DW-WORLD.DE. "I don't connect it with any kind of anti-Semitism -- it's just plain stupidity."

Explaining why Larsen's posters have gone largely ignored, he pointed out that Denmark has few Holocaust survivors, because most of the country's Jews left for Sweden during World War II.

"Feelings might be hurt," he said. "But the whole slogan is so idiotic; you can't begin to connect it to Auschwitz."

Bad taste

A man smokes a cigarette outside a building
Smokers: social pariahsImage: AP

Arne Rolighed of Denmark's leading cancer research charity is taking more offense.

"It's extremely tasteless," he was quoted as saying in Danish daily Politiken.

It's not the first time this kind of parallel has been drawn. In Germany -- where Nazi allusions are not shrugged off as lightly as they are in Denmark -- one protester launched a line of T-shirts earlier this year bearing a yellow Star of David along with the word "smoker."

The shirt was quickly withdrawn from the market after Jewish groups objected to comparing the perceived persecution of smokers to that of the Jews under the Nazis.

Isaak is more circumspect.

"The less said about [Larsen's campaign], the better," he said.

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