The Bible’s Viewpoint
IN THE 1950’s, one cigarette company advertised its brand as “just what the doctor ordered.” Oozing confidence, such slogans once promoted cigarettes as aids to health and vitality—but no more! These are the days when governments require cigarette packs to display labels warning about serious health risks.
Nevertheless, some smokers cling to the idea that ‘a cigarette helps me think and work better.’ They may dismiss the health threat as no worse than that of eating candy bars for quick energy or drinking coffee to get started in the morning. Or they may limit the risk of smoking to the physical body. Could they be right? Is there a case for the argument that a cigarette—for all its risks—might help them perform better?
A High Price to Pay!
Whether a cigarette really rewards the smoker with greater alertness and competence or only creates the illusion of doing so, there is no doubt that the reward comes at a terrible price. Besides the risk of eventual cancer and heart disease, consider the more immediate result: Within seven to ten seconds of each puff, the smoker feels the kick of a drug, nicotine: “It’s self-administered,” says University of California psychopharmacologist Nina Schneider, “and it controls mood and performance. That’s what makes it so powerfully addicting.”
As addicting as heroin and cocaine? Yes, said the surgeon general of the United States in a warning issued May 16, 1988. This physical addiction, he explained, is why some smokers will “persist despite adverse physical, psychological or social consequences.”
And what consequences! By 1985 smoking was responsible for 100,000 deaths a year in Britain, 350,000 a year in the United States, and a third of all deaths in Greece. This record as a public health problem is hard to excuse. The villain, tobacco smoke, is not only useless to the body as a food or a beverage but inherently harmful.
So, then, is the nicotine in tobacco smoke any worse than the caffeine in coffee, tea, or chocolate? From a medical standpoint, there is no comparison. Says Dr. Peter Dews, caffeine researcher from Harvard University: “Overall, caffeine is not a significant factor in ill health in the nation in the way that cigarette smoking is.” But this medical indictment of smoking is only the beginning.
Anatomy of a Bad Excuse
To see why smoking is in a totally different category from food and beverages, consider the design of your body. Ecclesiastes 7:29 says that “God made mankind upright, but they themselves have sought out many plans.” While eating is a God-given natural function of your body, the abuses of nonmedical drugs are of human invention. There can be no natural, moderate use of these addictive substances. Whether smoked, taken as pills, or injected by needles, they stimulate and pervert bodily functions in ways contrary to nature.
In contrast, nearly any food or drink will supply some of your body’s normal needs for fuel, growth, and tissue repair. Granted, people with certain health problems must avoid food with preservatives, saturated fats, or caffeine. (To a diabetic, ordinary sugar is dangerous.) But to most people, even these foods have some nutritional value and, in moderation, are harmless. Smoking is an entirely different story.
Even one or two cigarettes, like one use of cocaine for pleasure, is dangerously seductive. A British government study found that when youths smoked as few as two cigarettes, they had only a 15-percent chance of remaining nonsmokers.
Being at Your Best Spiritually
Surely you cannot be at your best as a helpless victim of physical drug dependency—the “irresistible urges” of nicotine as the U.S. surgeon general described it. Rather than have your body lead you as its slave, the Bible calls for self-control, the power ‘to lead your body as your own slave.’—1 Corinthians 9:24-27.
Tobacco not only attacks the smoker’s flesh—risking cancer, emphysema, and cardiovascular disease—but also attacks his will. Thus, by its subtle pollution, the habit virtually enslaves the smoker’s personality, or mental disposition. “For 26 years,” admitted a writer in Time magazine, “I’ve been a slave to cigarettes. For at least ten, I’ve been trying to emancipate myself. Only nicotine freaks who have tried repeatedly to kick the habit and failed can fully appreciate how difficult it is to give it up.”
The Bible obliges us, as those whom God loves, to “cleanse ourselves of every defilement [pollution] of flesh and spirit.”—2 Corinthians 7:1; Kingdom Interlinear.
Why should God care whether we abuse our own bodies and mental faculties? Simply because he is our loving Creator, who is concerned that we live up to our full potential as his creation. Appealing to our reason, he says: “I, Jehovah, am your God, the One teaching you to benefit [not harm] yourself.”—Isaiah 48:17.
The real challenge, then, is to be honest with ourselves for our own good. It is useless to defend smoking for its calming effect or other “advantages” that amount to little more than avoiding the agony of nicotine withdrawal. Medically, smoking has been a calamity to public health; but religiously, this human invention for taking nicotine into the bloodstream via the lungs has ignored our Creator’s clean standards and pollutes and degrades the human body. So why invite trouble? How much better to heed the proverb: “Shrewd is the one that has seen the calamity and proceeds to conceal himself, but the inexperienced have passed along and must suffer the penalty.”—Proverbs 22:3.
[Picture Credit Line on page 26]
Vincent van Gogh, Skull With Cigarette, 1885. Courtesy of the National Museum, Amsterdam, Holland