Smoking—The Christian View
OBVIOUSLY, the Bible does not mention either tobacco or smoking, since they were unknown in the ancient Middle East. The simple reason is that the tobacco plant is native to South America, Mexico, and the West Indies and was not introduced to the rest of the world until the mid-16th century.
Does that mean that the Bible says nothing relevant to smoking? Not at all. It clearly states principles that have universal application and are guidelines for our conduct. What are some of these basic principles?
Love of God and Neighbor
The fundamental motivating force for a Christian has to be that which Jesus expressed: “‘You must love Jehovah your God with your whole heart and with your whole soul and with your whole strength and with your whole mind,’ and, ‘your neighbor as yourself.’”—Luke 10:27.
How can one render love to God with one’s whole heart, soul, mind, and strength if one is deliberately corroding one’s faculties by indulging in a habit, a vice, that leads to premature disease and death? How does one show appreciation for God’s gift of life when inhaling an addictive drug like nicotine? God gave “to all persons life and breath.” (Acts 17:24, 25) Should we pollute that God-given breath? From God’s viewpoint it truly is a vice, “an evil, degrading, or immoral practice or habit.”—The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language.
How does smoking show love for neighbor, when a smoker’s foul breath and smoke pollute clothing and the surrounding air? What about a smoker’s closest neighbors, his spouse and children? Is it love to pursue a course that might lead to an early, slow, and painful death that they must observe? Does it show Christian consideration for other people to oblige them to be passive smokers, inhaling a smoker’s poisonous exhalations? Little wonder that the botanical garden in Blanes, Spain, has the tobacco plant in its poisonous plants section!
What about love of self? It is legitimate to love oneself to the point of caring for one’s bodily, mental, and spiritual health. The apostle Paul stated that “no man ever hated his own flesh; but he feeds and cherishes it.” Does it show love of self to indulge in a habit that slowly subverts one’s health?—Ephesians 5:28, 29.
Jehovah God has promised that there will be ‘new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness is to dwell.’ (2 Peter 3:13) That will be a clean new world, without pollution of any kind. Smoking will not be permitted or even desired then, so why smoke now? Logically, Paul’s counsel applies here: “Therefore, since we have these promises, beloved ones, let us cleanse ourselves of every defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in God’s fear.” (2 Corinthians 7:1) Nicotine defiles the flesh quite literally. Smoking makes it impossible for a Christian to present to God his body “a sacrifice living, holy, acceptable to God, a sacred service with [his] power of reason.” (Romans 12:1) The power of reason dictates that smoking is harmful and against Christian principles. There, then, is the primary motivation to quit smoking if one wants to please God.
Why Did They Quit?
Millions of people around the world have quit smoking. It can be done. But how? What is necessary? A powerful motivation. With many it is health, self-respect, and a love for the family. But others also have a religious motive—a desire to please God.
So, what about Ray, Bill, Amy, and Harley, mentioned in our second article? Why did they quit smoking?
Bill, formerly a bearded, long-haired artist, studied the Bible with Jehovah’s Witnesses. What next? “I decided I wanted to please God and serve him with a clean body and mind. I quit cold turkey. No gradual withdrawal. On January 1, 1975, I took my last drag on a cigarette and then threw away the cigarette pack. Since then my health has improved. I still have a touch of emphysema. But even my perception of color improved after I quit smoking.”
Amy, the surgical nurse, explains how she quit. “I assisted in open-heart surgery, and I have seen every kind of lung—pink and healthy, dark and poisoned. Even though I saw those horribly sick lungs, looking as if they were impregnated with black peppers, I still did not give up smoking. I kidded myself, saying, ‘You’re still young. That won’t happen to you.’
“Then in 1982 I felt the need to straighten out my life, and I started to study the Bible with the Witnesses. Even though I stayed with a Witness in her home, I used to sneak out onto the roof to have a smoke! So I had to come to grips with myself. I prayed hard and long. But once I had made the decision, it was easy. The first two days were a test, but constant prayer was the key for me.”
Harley, the former Navy flyer, had a hard time breaking the nicotine habit. “I tried to taper off my smoking, but it didn’t work. Then when I decided I wanted to be baptized as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, I went cold turkey. I went through two or three days of agony. I was nervous, tense, and uptight. How I wanted a cigarette! Then a Witness helped me with some fine counsel. ‘When you want to reach for a cigarette, that is when you must pray to Jehovah for help.’ It worked for me. Another thought that impressed me was, ‘Could I imagine Jesus with a cigarette in his mouth?’ It was out of the question. But I realize that a smoker needs a powerful motivation to quit. I used to say to my mother, ‘I’m only hurting myself, Mom.’ In fact I was hurting her too, in more ways than one.”
Ray, the former Navy quartermaster, also did not find it easy to stop smoking. “I had tried a few times before I met Jehovah’s Witnesses, but it never worked. I was always mixing with smoking people, and it was hard to refuse the proffered cigarette. But when I got to know the truth from the Bible, I wanted to serve Jehovah, even as Christ had done. So I quit in one day. It was miserable for two weeks. My body was crying out for nicotine. But what a change it made! I suddenly had boundless energy again. I felt good about myself. I was in charge again.”
Is It Worth It?
Common sense indicates that any harmful practice should be dropped. But with smoking we are not talking about just harmful. It is deadly, death-dealing. It is poisonous. As Patrick Reynolds, the tobacco fortune heir, stated in his testimony to a U.S. Congress subcommittee: “I believe that cigarette advertising is promotion of a poisonous product and that it is moral, right and good to eliminate all advertising of cigarettes.”
For Christians wishing to please God, it is certainly moral, right, and good to eliminate, not just tobacco advertising, but all tobacco products from their lives. Cigarettes (“safe” and unsafe), cigars, pipe tobacco, and snuff—they all come from the same poisonous, nicotine-producing tobacco plant. And you don’t need it to prove ‘you’ve come a long way, baby’ or to have enjoyment and fine taste in your life. Sophistication is not displayed by self-poisoning, regardless of what the salesmen of disease and death try to tell you!
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Defectors From the Smoking Trade
In 1875 R. J. Reynolds established a chewing-tobacco company in North Carolina. In 1913 they made their first cigarette—the Camel brand. From there the business has prospered to become second only to Philip Morris in the cigarette sales and earnings league in the United States. The great-grandson of the founder is Patrick Reynolds, now in his early 40’s. Formerly a smoker for 15 years, he dropped a bombshell on the tobacco world.
In 1986 he appeared before a congressional subcommittee to testify against smoking! Since then he has become a regular campaigner against tobacco usage. What triggered his antipathy to the product that made his family’s fortune? Remembering watching as a boy as his father, a heavy smoker, slowly died of emphysema. Patrick stated: “My memories of my father are all of a man always short of breath, and counting the time he had left to live.”
Patrick decided to do something positive with his life. “I saw I could make a difference and do something with my life.” He said that to continue to promote “proven killers” would be “plainly immoral.”
“If the hand that once fed me is the tobacco industry, then that same hand has killed millions of people and will continue to kill millions more unless people wake up to the hazards of cigarettes.”—The New York Times, October 25, 1986.
David Goerlitz is the model who was famous for being the Winston man on Winston cigarette ads. He has given up his cigarette advertising and has now become a spokesman for the American Cancer Society. What made him change? In an interview on TV, December 29, 1988, he said: ‘I visited my brother in a cancer ward at a hospital in Boston. It brought me face-to-face with the effects of my work—cancer patients who were suffering because of smoking. I saw the devastating effects to the victims of smoking and the victims of the victims, their families. I saw men in their 40’s with no hair, tubes in their throats and stomachs. I felt guilty and decided to quit advertising tobacco.’
[Picture on page 14]
“I assisted in open-heart surgery, and I have seen every kind of lung”