By Andrew Faris
As I anticipated, there was some objection to my post from Thursday that suggested that smoking in and of itself is not always sinful and can certainly be done to the glory of God.
I am grateful for thoughtful objections, as this is an issue that I'm still processing. I figured I might as well address those in a new post because I have more to say than a comment's worth. In particular here I think of John Bruce's reasonable and humble objection (posted as "Jeff and Jenny's Dad") that goes into the most detail. I'll handle all of this in a point by point manner.
Objection #1: There is no question about it: smoking in all forms does increase health risks, and therefore Christians should not engage in it.
Let me state something upfront on this: if it is true that the kind of smoking I am here referring to significantly increases my health risks, I will stop. But I am still simply not convinced that this is the case. I will continue to use myself as a test case.
I am a 25 year old who smokes a pipe probably two times a week on average. This has been the case for the last six months to a year. When I get married in a month and a half, this number will decrease because I will no longer live in a house with four other men who enjoy smoking, and in fact my fiancee doesn't love it. Put simply, I do not think that this amount of smoking brings serious health risks.
Part of the reason for this is that in the studies I have found (including this quite thorough government-published monograph on cigar smoking), the test cases do not include those who smoke less than one cigar per day. My understanding is that there has been quite little research on this group of smokers (which would include me). And again I hasten to add that pipes contain far less tobacco than do cigars, which leads me to believe that the health risk is far less.
So here is a question for those who object on the grounds of health: can you point me to a study that measures this kind of occasional smoking? Because if you can, please do- I really would like to know. It appears to me that there is not enough risk in occasional pipe or cigar smoking to warrant a serious study, though I most certainly could be wrong about that!
Let me add one more thing to this point: are you, in an a priori kind of way, at all willing to accept even the possibility that the occasional smoking I have described actually does not present significant health risks? It strikes me as I think through this issue that it is so ingrained in the minds of most people that all forms of smoking absolutely will kill you that the simple idea of doing it in a non-destructive way is thrown out as impossible. But as I've said, I'm really not sure this is true.
And here, I maintain my analogy between the health risks of a poor diet and the health risks of occasional smoking. Heart disease is the biggest killer in America, yet there is fast food on every corner. I am reminded of the movie "Thank You For Smoking" where Aaron Eckhart's character suggests that it is inconsistent to want to put giant "smoking kills" type warning labels on cigarette packs while we do no such thing on fast food burger wrappers.
I think the comparison is fair: the National Center for Health Statistics says that a staggering 66.3% of Americans who are at least 20 year old are overweight or obese. Downtoearth.org says that 33% of adult Americans are obese, and obesity related deaths per year over 300,000 (second only to smoking related deaths!). As far as I can tell, that only measures obesity related deaths, not those related to being overweight more generally. Yet there aren't warning labels on your burger, fries, and soda.
On top of all that, the Bible directly condemns gluttony, but I don't see Christians up in arms about it. Why? Well, culturally the two are perceived differently, probably at least in part due to the addiction issue with smoking. But if you don't think eating food that is bad for you is addictive, then you've never talked to the countless overweight people who have been trying to lose the same weight for twenty years.
All that said, you can eat greasy food in moderation and probably considerably lessen the adverse health effects- I'm not suggesting that we all become vegans! I am suggesting that the same moderation is possible with smoking.
Objection #2: What about second hand smoke?
I always smoke outside, I don't smoke that often, and I almost make a point of blowing smoke away from everyone sitting with me. I honestly cannot imagine that this presents a significant health risk given these circumstances.
Some even suggest that studies measuring the effects of secondhand smoke are suspect, and it does seem that the major focus is on people who spend lots of time in places where there is relatively constant second hand smoke, such as in a bar or a house with addicted cigarette smokers.
Objection #3: What about the possibility of addiction?
Smoking a pipe or cigar is less addictive than cigarettes because one does not inhale the smoke, which means that nicotine does not enter the bloodstream as quickly or fully. This is probably why there are so many occasional pipe and cigar smokers like me who frankly feel no addiction to it. In fact I myself have never personally known an addicted cigar or pipe smoker, despite knowing so many people who casually smoke them. I myself have never felt an addiction to pipe smoking.
That said, when a roommate of mine was trying to quit smoking cigarettes, the rest of us stopped smoking our pipes and cigars when he was around. We all realize that smoking will kill you if you do it regularly and we don't want that to happen to our friend.
So if you find yourself getting addicted, do everything you can to quit and never start again. This is quite similar to alcoholism: the Bible clearly approves of drinking alcohol in moderation, but it also clearly condemns drunkenness. So if you are an alcoholic, stay away altogether. Similarly, if you know someone who is addicted to smoking, don't invite them to smoke with you.
Which leads to my last point:
Objection #4: What about 1 Cor. 8-10 and Rom. 14:14-15? Even if smoking isn't unclean, is it unloving?
This is exactly why I pick my co-smokers carefully. Those passages in my view address the issue of violating conscience. The logic in 1 Cor. 8 and Rom. 14 seems to be that if we think it may very well be sinful to take part in some action but we go on doing it anyway, then we are not seeking to honor Christ first. And if we lead others to do the same, then we're leading brothers and sisters into sin. Bad ideas, unquestionably.
For Paul the issue is food sacrificed to idols. Paul knows that the pagan gods aren't really gods at all, and therefore the food is just food. It's not mystically cursed, Satanic food; it's just food. But if another believer sees my eating idol-food as condoning idol worship, then I am creating some serious turmoil for that believer. Again, bad idea.
1 Cor. 10 appears to have more of a focus on non-believers (vv. 31-33). Again, if my eating idol-food is seen by a non-believer as condoning idol worship, then that believer will see no reason to exclusively worship Christ. The principle is the same.
So in his comment on my first post, John put it like this: "The issue isn't just whether an activity is legal; it's whether its loving." That is absolutely in keeping with the intent of those passages.
Thing is, that was exactly the logic of my whole post on the matter: occasional smoking has been a way for me to love believer and non-believer alike. But I also strongly advocate carefulness here. For example, I was recently corresponding with my aunt (a non-believer who is nonethless very interested in Jesus) over email who made a point of expressing her disgust for cigarettes, saying that Jesus would never do that sort of thing. So next time I see her, I don't plan on lighting up in front of her because I wouldn't want her to think that I am not satisfied in Christ alone. I have the freedom to smoke or not to smoke, but it could hinder the gospel if I smoke in front of her. It's a no-brainer.
By contrast, my roommate and I recently went to our next-door neighbor's house and enjoyed a beer and a smoke (a pipe for me, a cigar for Joel) with him, his wife, and another neighbor. Sitting there and drinking (in moderation) and smoking with that group was an easy way to build my relationship with them. It breaks down any perceived Christian pretense as well- sort of a reverse way of serving their consciences. And as far as I could tell we were in no way perceived as less Christian either. In fact when my neighbor said, "I didn't know you guys drank beer and smoked cigars," I responded, "Show me the passage in the Bible that says I can't, and I'll stop." I think I also threw in something about how though I do drink, I don't get drunk. I was actually able to affirm Biblical authority in the midst of smoking and drinking with non-believers!
My point in all of this is to restate what I did in my last post, namely that smoking in moderation is Biblically permissible and can be done to the glory of God, just like eating and drinking (1 Cor. 10:31). There is no question that we need to be very careful about it, but I am yet quite unconvinced that the Bible condemns all forms of smoking as sinful.