Germany is noted within Europe for its weak tobacco control policies and its opposition to European Union tobacco control legislation. In this article, we aim to explain Germany's stance on tobacco control. We review two explanations commonly proposed, namely tobacco industry donations to political parties and the legacy of the Nazis' opposition to smoking, and examine the politics of tobacco control in detail. We suggest that the interplay of numerous factors explains Germany's stance. Aspects of political culture including the Nazi heritage which has resulted in a dearth of public health research and teaching, institutional factors such as the reliance on industry self-regulation facilitated by Germany's system of corporatist policy-making and interest group politics are key. The tobacco industry has also successfully used framing strategies to uphold the social acceptability of smoking and undermine the acceptability of tobacco control in Germany. In addition a phenomenon that we call 'autarkic epistemic isolation' explains why so little policy learning from abroad has occurred. We suggest that our multi-factor model has significant explanatory power for Germany's weak stance that has resulted in a long-standing policy equilibrium. Recent events, however, suggest that this equilibrium may now have been punctuated.