Please Don't Smoke...

My mother died of emphysema. My uncle died of emphysema. My grandfather died of emphysema. Emphysema is a bad way to die. They all undoubtedly would have lived longer lives if they had not been lifetime smokers. You can understand why I deplore the use of tobacco products and feel passionate about this subject.

If you are hooked on smoking, you have my sympathy. You are paying giant penalties for starting something you can't stop. I pray that with God's power and your determination, you will be able to quit smoking for good. But the purpose of this article is not to shame you or show you how to quit, but to motivate everyone else in the Church—adults, teens and children-to not start smoking, even occasionally.

When I was a child, my parents and many adults around me smoked, but their example didn't influence me to smoke. The reason is that most of them shamefully admitted they were helplessly addicted and hated the fact that they had started smoking in the first place. So I had the blessing of developing a healthy fear of any addiction.

But still, in my later teen years, I was a "social smoker," smoking occasionally with friends or on dates. I figured I could avoid getting hooked if I spaced out my smoking. Why did I smoke at all? For all the usual immature reasons—experimentation, peer pressure, wanting to be accepted and "cool," youthful recklessness, etc.

Despite my caution, I may have become addicted if I had not received the greatest possible blessing—God's calling. When I understood that smoking is a sin, I quit it immediately and for good.

Since then, like most ministers, I've counseled hundreds of prospective members and members of the Church about overcoming their smoking habits. Some have stopped smoking quickly and easily, and others have struggled for a long time. The main point is most people need counsel and support to quit smoking, and a minister, because of his experience in counseling concerning smoking and study into the subject, as well as his knowledge of the Bible and human nature, should be very helpful to those who want to quit.

Regrettably, in the past some ministers overemphasized the sinfulness of smoking, and lacked patience and compassion. Thankfully, the Church has grown much in wisdom and love.

Recently, however, it seems the pendulum has swung the other way and we have partly neglected to teach the principles of healthful living, including the harmfulness of smoking, physically and spiritually.

This is evident because of a surprising and sad increase in "social smoking" among adults and teens in the Church, and some are even baptized members. Some, especially some young men and boys, are smoking cigars since this has been the macho fad the last few years. (Some may think that cigars and pipes are less harmful to health, but if the smoke is inhaled, they are more harmful.)

Concerning social smoking, I've been there and done that and wish I hadn't. In the '50s I didn't have much knowledge of the harmful physical and spiritual effects of smoking, but today that knowledge is abundantly available.

What's wrong with smoking only occasionally as long as one doesn't get addicted? Many things are wrong with it, and some of the main ones are listed below:

1) You may become addicted anyway. Nicotine, the main culprit chemical in tobacco, is a powerfully addictive drug. Some who try smoking aren't as "lucky" as I was-they get addicted very quickly. And many kids and adults apparently don't give much thought to what a curse it is to be enslaved to smoking. This tragedy has been the subject of comedy, such as in the old song, "Smoke! Smoke! Smoke! That Cigarette." Many smokers will do practically anything, including antisocial behavior, to stay supplied with their smokes. Under the thin layer of humor is a whole lot of horror—a world full of sorrow, suffering and death as a result of smoking.

2) The Bible makes it clear that our bodies and minds belong to God, so what right have we to pollute and poison our bodies? "Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God's" (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). God not only created us, but Jesus Christ paid the price of His life for us. We doubly belong to God, and we must not abuse God's property.

If one smokes only occasionally, the amount of nicotine and tar may be relatively small, but why deliberately put any of these toxic chemicals into our bodies? Every time one inhales, some internal damage is occurring. And even when one doesn't inhale, many chemicals are absorbed through the mucous membranes of the mouth and nose.

Today there is a great abundance of information on smoking and its deleterious effects available in publications and on the Internet. It is valuable for guiding and motivating your own decisions as well as equipping you to help others.

3) Your example may influence others to smoke, and you would be partly responsible for their displeasing God. Seeing a Church member smoking can lead another member or child to erroneously conclude that it's OK to smoke. It is shameful when the bad influences are fellow Church members! And think of the terrible guilt you would have if some of those who start smoking became addicted.

Jesus said, "But whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to sin, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were drowned in the depth of the sea" (Matthew 18:6). A "little one" can refer to a child or a spiritual babe in Christ.

4) Many religious people believe it is a sin to smoke, and many nonreligious people believe it is foolish to smoke. If you are seen smoking, those religious people will think of you as a sinner and the nonreligious people will think of you as a fool. You lose credibility and the opportunity to lead them to the truth of God.

We are called to be "the light of the world" (Matthew 5:14). Jesus said, "Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven" (verse 16). God is judging us by how we live up to this. Smoking is anything but good works.

5) What would Jesus do? We should do as Jesus would do. He certainly wouldn't smoke or chew tobacco. How do we know, since the Bible doesn't mention smoking? Because of all the other reasons mentioned in this list. Tobacco was unknown and unavailable where the Bible was being written, but the principles are clear.

6) The Bible makes it clear that we should not copy or try to "fit in" with the wrong ways of the world, no matter how cool or sophisticated they may be. A would-be smoker should examine his motives as to why he wants to smoke. Weak character is marked by being more concerned about what the world thinks than what God thinks. Let's have the desire and courage to stand up for what God thinks and for what is right.

Consider these two verses: "I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God" (Romans 12:1-2).

7) Smoking is bad for everyone around you and the environment. (See below)

On top of all these factors, if you become a chronic smoker, your risk of contracting many major diseases skyrockets. Information is available from your doctor on the types of damage done by smoking, the many health risks, as well as tips for quitting smoking. An article in the British Medical Journal said that it takes between 10 to 15 years from the time a person stops smoking to reduce the risk of lung cancer to the same level of risk as a nonsmoker.

Most articles neglect to say much about smokeless tobacco (chewing tobacco and snuff), but there is plenty of scientific evidence to show that these present many of the same dangers as smoking. Some of the differences are in the location of the disease, such as cancer of the mouth instead of cancer of the lung. And marijuana has most of the same harmful effects as smoking tobacco plus additional harmful effects.

Some have used the excuse that occasional smoking is no worse than eating junk food, eating too much, being overweight, etc. It is worse, as the points above indicate. But even if smoking was not any worse, would that be justification for doing something that has no long-range benefits, has many harmful effects and is clearly contrary to God's will?

Imagine a creature on another planet hearing about a practice on planet earth: "You say they grow a poisonous weed, dry the leaves, roast them, chop them up, then roll them up in paper? And then they stick one end of the tube in their mouths? And then they what? They set the other end on fire! You must be kidding! They suck on it so as to draw the smoke into their mouths? And then they inhale it into their lungs? Deliberately? Even though it is well known that many of them develop a dependence and addiction to this practice? Why do they do this? What do they call these people? Suckers? Oh, smokers. Well, it certainly seems that Earthlings are irrational and self-destructive creatures!"

Rather than imagining what a creature from space would think, let's ask ourselves what God thinks. He does not want us getting hooked into physically bad and degenerative habits that destroy our bodies, which are the temple of the Holy Spirit. God has given us a great calling and mission. Let's be busy about our Father's business, and not do anything to hinder or weaken our effectiveness in His service! Please don't smoke.

Some of the Bad Effects of Smoking

When you smoke, even occasionally:

  • Your health is being harmed, and your life is being shortened.
  • You cause people around you to inhale second-hand smoke which has been proven to be a major health risk.
  • You are wasting your money, perhaps big time.
  • You may be taking time away from responsibilities.
  • Your breath stinks.
  • Your clothing stinks, as does the clothing of others around you.
  • Your teeth and fingers may become stained.
  • You cause the area where you smoke (upholstery, draperies, etc.) to stink.
  • You lose part of your ability to smell and taste.
  • You have a responsibility for disposing of cigarette butts, without littering.
  • You run the risk of starting a fire. People have died from fires caused by smoking.

So smoking clearly is not loving your neighbor as yourself!

(This article was first published in the November/December 2002 issue of The Good News.)

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