Can You Love Your Neighbor and Smoke?
Humans who smoke not only foul the air that others must breathe but also damage their own health. They themselves would be healthier if they stopped smoking. And they would also save a lot of money by not polluting—up to $700 a year or so just for the cost of the cigarettes. So the only reasonable course for a smoker is to stop smoking.
Consider the amount of pollution in the smoke that curls off the burning end of a cigarette. It is much more toxic than the smoke inhaled by the smoker. Sidestream smoke contains twice the amount of tar and nicotine, five times more carbon monoxide and 50 times more ammonia than mainstream smoke, not to mention other poisons.
The burning of 10 cigarettes in a closed automobile will raise the carbon monoxide level to 100 parts per million, far above the exposure permitted by United States federal air-quality standards. “At a typical campus party,” noted the New York Times, “the level of particulates in the air from cigarette smoke is 40 times above the United States air quality standard.” And, as observed above, the harm done to those regularly forced to breathe such smoke has been well established.
CONSISTENT WITH NEIGHBOR LOVE?
The Bible says that to “love your neighbor as yourself” is “the kingly law,” thus emphasizing this law’s importance. (Jas. 2:8) Would it be showing love to your neighbor willfully to throw garbage onto his property or to spit in his face? “Of course not!” you may say. Would doing these things to your neighbor be a sin?
The definition of sin helps to answer this question. “Sin is a breaking of the law”—God’s law—the Bible says. (1 John 3:4, Today’s English Version) So willfully to impose on your neighbor something as objectionable as spit in his face or garbage on his property would be a sin. It would be a violation of “the kingly law” that says, “You must love your neighbor as yourself.”
But how does this relate to smoking? Dr. Isaac Asimov, in an editorial in Cancer News, very forcefully showed how. “When someone smokes in my presence,” he said, “his vice is not private. His foul emanations find their way into my lungs and bloodstream. His stench becomes my stench and clings to me. And, he raises my chance of heart disease and lung cancer.”
In answer to smokers who may claim the freedom to smoke in the presence of others, Dr. Asimov said: “If he feels he must smoke and that by objecting I am depriving him of his freedom, then would he be willing to bear with me if I feel I must kick him in the groin and that by objecting he would deprive me of my freedom? Let’s put it this way: Your freedom to smoke ends where my lungs begin.”
No question about it, kicking someone in the groin, spitting in his face, or throwing garbage on his property is not consistent with neighbor love. Neither is smoking. It is infringing on the rights of others—hurting them rather than loving them. Yes, smoking is a sin.
However, a smoker may explain: “I realize that smoking can be harmful. That’s why I never smoke around people.” So, if one only smokes privately, is it sin? No one else is harmed.
SIN TO SMOKE PRIVATELY?
Yet consider: The smoker’s own life is adversely affected. And who really is the source of our lives? “With you [Jehovah God] is the source of life,” the Bible answers. “He himself gives to all persons life and breath.” (Ps. 36:9; Acts 17:25) Yes, our life is really a marvelous gift from God.
How do we show appreciation for God’s gift of life? By doing what can ruin it? Of course not! Willfully doing so obviously would be wrong. In such a context, examine the statement of Joseph Califano, former U.S. Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare: “Today there can be no doubt that smoking is truly slow-motion suicide.”
Deliberately destroying human life is wrong—it is a sin. The Bible commands Christians not even to pollute their bodies. “Let us cleanse ourselves of every defilement of flesh,” it urges. (2 Cor. 7:1) For a smoker to obey this command, he must rid himself of the tobacco habit, since it is indeed defiling. It defiles the smoker’s fingers, teeth, breath, clothes—practically everything with which it comes in contact.
But what if a smoker wants to quit, yet is so addicted that he cannot? Will God mercifully understand that, since Jesus Christ said, ‘The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak’?—Matt. 26:41.
EXCUSED DUE TO WEAKNESS?
No question about it, to quit smoking can be extremely difficult. “It was much easier to quit heroin than cigarettes,” addicts have said. The withdrawal symptoms last much longer with tobacco. “For most, craving persists at least a month,” observes the magazine Science 80, “and for about a fifth it continues five to nine years after they quit.”
This helps explain why many quit smoking for a while, but then start again. Nine out of 10 smokers want to stop. But to stay off tobacco is a continual day-in, day-out battle, sometimes lasting for years. Millions have won the battle. Tens of millions have fought and lost. If a person has tried to quit and has failed, is it wise to assume that God will understand and forgive this shortcoming?
A source of the problem is that a person may enjoy smoking. Yet that does not excuse the practice when God condemns it. The Bible says that, “rather than to have the temporary enjoyment of sin,” Moses wisely chose to serve God. (Heb. 11:24-26) God expects his servants to fight against and, with his help, overcome practices that are contrary to his laws.
Consider fornication as an example. It is a practice that may seem enjoyable for a time. And when practiced, a person’s craving for sex with a variety of partners can be as strong as any urge for a cigarette. Yet fornication is breaking God’s law, and willful, unrepentant practicers of fornication will not be favored with God’s gift of everlasting life. Neither will those who continue to smoke.—Heb. 13:4; Rom. 6:23.
It takes real effort to be obedient to God’s laws. This was also true for God’s Son, Jesus Christ. He underwent the most extreme suffering, eventually dying a horrible death. Yet he remained faithful to God. For some persons, the agonies experienced in order to quit smoking may seem just as difficult to endure as the sufferings Christ underwent. Yet the tobacco habit can be overcome. How?