By Andrew Faris
Today Tim Challies posted this thoughtful and humble piece asking the question, "Is it sinful to smoke?" I thought about commenting there, but instead I've decided to dedicate a full post to the subject because not only have I been thinking of writing about this for some time, but I also have too much to say to fit into a comment there. So here it goes...
First of all, we need to distinguish between types of smoking. The addicted cigarette smoker should quit. There is a reasonable chance that he is killing himself and wasting a heck of a lot of money in the process. This seems obvious.
But once we get past that, the issue gets a little more complicated. Is it sinful to smoke a pipe, a cigar, or occasional cigarettes?
My basic thesis is this: smoking can be enjoyed to the glory of God, or it can be enjoyed sinfully, but the sinfulness is not intrinsic to the action (unlike, say, looking at pornography, which is always sinful).
For one thing, the medical effects of pipe smoking, to the best of my knowledge, have actually received relatively little study, and some studies, no joke, apparently show that casual pipe smoking can prolong life. For those who don't realize, you do not inhale the smoke when you smoke a cigar or pipe (well, you try not to, cause it's dang unpleasant if you accidentally do!); rather, you hold the smoke in your mouth, get the flavor of the tobacco, then blow it out. That is why the biggest health risk for pipe and cigar smoking is mouth cancer of various kinds (i.e. lips, tongue, etc.).
If those studies are real and accurate (note my tentativeness here, commenters), presumably pipe smoking would lead to longer life because it is relaxing. Stress notoriously leads to many fatal diseases, and smoking would ease stress. I am less sure about the effects of cigar smoking, only because there is so much more tobacco in a cigar than in a pipe, such that any adverse effects of tobacco would be considerably intensified for regular cigar smokers as opposed to regular pipe smokers.
If you couldn't tell from my discussion there, I am a pipe smoker (and occasionally, a cigar smoker, but pipe tobacco is way better...), and in fact a relatively avid one. I would say on average I smoke a couple times a week, though that number is a bit inflated at this point in life because I life with seven other guys, all very mature Christians, and several of them enjoy various kinds of smoking as well. When I get married in a month and a half, my smoking will likely decrease. In the mean time, we sit outside and smoke together relatively often in the evenings.
Which leads me to a major point: men do not tend to sit down and have in depth conversations about important things out of nowhere. But put a pipe, a cigar, or a beer in a guy's hand who enjoys that sort of thing, and great conversations arise.
My own anecdotal evidence for this phenomenon could fill more blog posts than you would care to read. Put simply, I have had countless deep conversations about serious life issues (including the state of spiritual lives, difficult issues generally, jobs, girlfriends/fiancees, and theology, to name a few) with my Christian brothers that I honestly think would not have arisen had we not been sitting out and smoking a pipe, a cigar, or for one of my roommates, a Marlboro Red. This kind of smoking is often perceived as manly, as a time for thoughtfulness. It takes awhile (at least thirty minutes), it is genuinely enjoyable for folks like me, and it importantly for the sake of conversation, it falls into the background of the atmosphere while the conversation comes to the fore. This leads to good conversation, which is in my view the reason that smoking can be done to the glory of God.
Further, I keep a pack of cigarettes in my computer bag or messenger bag. I don't particularly enjoy smoking cigarettes, but I'm willing to do it for the purpose of making relationships with those I don't know. I read and study at coffee shops quite a bit, and at coffee shops people often sit outside and smoke a cigarette while talking, reading, and drinking their cup of coffee. There is no easier way to get a conversation going with someone you don't know than by pulling out a cigarette and asking them for a light if they are already smoking. The awkwardness of going up to someone you don't know and beginning a conversation with them is completely alleviated by starting that conversation over a cigarette.
Most cigarette smokers will tell you that one of the most difficult things about quitting smoking is the community aspect. A group of people will go outside and smoke together, and while they do they talk. And of course, an addicted smoker can't stand out there around all that smoke and resist the temptation himself, so he has to stay away. Which means staying from the community and the conversation. And that is no fun. Even as a stranger, the minute I walk up to a group like that and ask for a light, I am typically implicitly invited into the conversation. Imagine if that was your group of regular friends and your could no longer share those conversations.
That said, I do not consider myself to be in any danger of getting addicted to cigarettes. For one thing I've actually done this only a few times in roughly four months of having the cigarettes in my bag, but each time it has allowed me the opportunity to make relationship (I know one guy by name who is a regular at the same Starbucks I'm a regular at because I smoked with him once). Also, I don't enjoy cigarettes, which probably helps, and I go back and forth on inhaling them in those situations.
My point in all of this is this: if smoking occasionally won't kill me anymore than eating In-N-Out will, if I'm not blowing money on it, and if I can use it to deepen relationships for kingdom purposes, why not? I'm not saying that everyone should smoke, but I do think that the stigma attached to it can be unfair, and I do think it can absolutely be done to the glory of God.