IS SMOKING A SIN?
That is a good question. It's a topic being discussed more often these days, due to revelations about the health consequences of tobacco use and the actions of tobacco companies. The following is my attempt to answer the question. Compiled by Greg M. Johnson last update on 03/09/01.
Click on the underlined text to skip ahead to a particular portion of the presentation
OUTLINE OF THIS PRESENTATION
1. Is smoking a faith issue?
2.Does smoking harm our neighbor in any way?
3. But it can't be a sin!
4. What then must we do?
IS SMOKING A FAITH ISSUE?
Martin Luther wrote the Small Catechism, where he tried to explain the Ten Commandments in a question and answer format. In his explanation to the Fifth Commandment, Thou Shall Not Kill, Luther writes,"Q. What does this mean?
A. We must fear and love God, so that we will neither harm nor hurt our neighbor's body, but help him and care for him when he is ill. "
In Luther's Large Catechism, Luther elaborates:"Therefore the entire sum of what it means not to kill is to be impressed most explicitly upon the simple-minded. In the first place that we harm no one, first, with our hand or by deed. Then, that we do not employ our tongue to instigate or counsel thereto. Further, that we neither use nor assent to any kind of means or methods whereby anyone may be injured. And finally, that the heart be not ill disposed toward any one, nor from anger and hatred wish him ill, so that body and soul may be innocent in regard to every one, but especially those who wish you evil or inflict such upon you. For to do evil to one who wishes and does you good is not human, but diabolical.
Secondly, under this commandment not only he is guilty who does evil to his neighbor, but he also who can do him good, prevent, resist evil, defend and save him, so that no bodily harm or hurt happen to him and yet does not do it."
DOESSMOKING "HARM OUR NEIGHBOR IN ANY WAY"?
TOBACCO COMPANY RESEARCHER's OPINIONS
In1980, the British Medical Journal published a paper by Takeshi Hirayamawhich concluded the non-smoking wives of smokers suffered a greater riskof cancer. Lawyers for Brown & Williamson tobacco company hiredindependent researchers to review the study. B&W's internal review of the BMJ paper said,"theybelieve Hirayama is a good scientist and that his non-smoking wives publication is correct."
Brown and Williamson researchers also apparently understood the "biologic activity," or carcinogenicity, of nitrosamines found at levels in environmental tobaccosmoke. Rather than notifying the public, they saw it as a
"source of new commercial product opportunities."
Thus, theyconductedresearch into new cigarettes which would
"consider the reduction of specific biological activity, as well as the reduction of
visible smoke irritation and unpleasant odour."
If environmental tobacco smoke has no carcinogenicity, or "biological activity," how do you reduce it?
A Phillip Morris employee published a "Memorandum Concerning Meeting with Dr. Spitzer and his Group Studying the Effects of Passive Exposure to Tobacco Smoke" in 1988. The memo talks of a review of the literature of passive smoking that took place in May 1988. The memo states: "Children who have a mother who is a heavy smoker have a higher than average incidence of respiratory infections, the frequency being more or less proportional to the amount of smoking." "
Phillip Morris's new web site comes closer to admitting publicly the dangers of secondhand smoke to children. Their web site encourages readers to learn more about the science behind the problem. Readers are directed to a booklet by the American Council on Science and Health. The executive summary of the ACSH report states:"The scientific evidence that tobacco smoke in indoor environments is associated with acute and chronic respiratory illnesses, particularly in children, supports the adaptation of measures designed to reduce or prevent exposure to ETS.
SMOKING & SUDDEN INFANT DEATH SYNDROME
Exposure to tobacco smoke has been shown to be a significant risk factor in a baby's risk of dying of SIDS. The American SIDS Institute concluded from this study that"Decreasing the prevalence of smokers in the U.S., especially in women of child-bearing age, promises to reduce the number of infants lost to SIDS, reduce the amountof respiratory ailments in infants, and at the same time improve the health of the individuals that quit smoking. "
TheSIDSAlliance supports medical studies which demonstrate that maternal smoking doubles the risk ofSIDS, and smoking during pregnancy triples the risk.
The Journal Pediatrics reported on blood measurements of cotinine in babies who had died of SIDS compared to other diseases. A common criticism of studies linking crib deaths to passive smoking is the supposed quality of data regarding exposure to smoking: you cannot get much better than blood tests. The article states:
"Victims of SIDS are more often and more heavily exposed to tobacco smoke doses before death than are infants who have sudden infectious deaths."
Furthermore, Pediatrics [June 1995, part 1, Volume 126, Number 6] also investigated maternal smoking and maternal education level versus a babies' risk of dying of SIDS. After controlling for smoking, the mother's education level did not have much an effect on SIDS risk."[After] control for low maternal education level, prenatal exposure to tobacco was significantly more common among the SIDS group than in infants dying of other causes (OR = 1.97; 95% CI, 1.59 to 2.45)."
A later paper in the journal Pediatrics, [Volume 91, Issue 5, pp. 893-896, 05/01/1993] after finding a statistically significant increase in risk of SIDS after controlling for a wide range of potential confounders, concluded that
"Passive tobacco smoking is causally related to SIDS."
OTHER MEDICAL SOURCES
The Jounal of the National Cancer Institute reported that nonsmoking wives of smoking husbands have higher concentrations of proven carcinogens in their bloodstream than nonsmoking wives of nonsmoking husbands. For the various carcinogenic hemicals studied, the ratios were 3-6 times higher.
Dr. Koop's web site asks and answers the question, "Should parents smoke around their kids?"
The Journal Pediatrics published a study of 7680 children which showed that exposure to environmental tobacco smoke in the home was responsible for excess cases of asthma, chronic bronchitis, and hospital visits for wheezing.
The Journal of the American Medical Association reportsthat exposure to tobacco smoke in the home causes each year
'300,000 children in the United States to suffer from lower respiratory tract infections.'
Likewise,a recent JAMA study showed that the new ban on smoking in bars in California
"was associated with a rapid improvement" in the health of the bartender's lungs. 1,2
The Oregon Department of Human Services's Tobacco Education and Prevention Program has published a web site summarizing the medical health effects of passive smoking.
The American Journal of Epedimiology similarly reported that exposure to an hour a day of tobacco smoke triples a woman's risk of breast cancer.
The World Health Organization published the largest-ever study of the effects of secondhand smoke. The report , carried out by the International Agency for Research on Cancer, found a 17% increase in cancer rate for spousal smoking and a 16% increase for workplace exposure. Another way of stating a 17% increase is that the relative risk ratio (RRR) is 1.17. The 95% confidence interval on this study was 0.93 to 1.44. This confidence interval means that there is a 2.5% chance that exposure to SES reduces your neighbor's cancer risk by more than 7% (RRR < 0.93) and there is a 2.5% chance that exposure to SES increases your neighbor's cancer risk by more than 44% (RRR > 1.44), while the best money is that it's close to a 17% increase (RRR= 1.17). Should a Christian tell a neighbor that he's willing to take these risks with his neighbor's life?
BUTWHAT ABOUT THE OSTEEN DECISION?
Judge Osteen stuck down certain parts of the Environmental Protection Agency's report on Enviornmental Tobacco Smoke. The judge's ruling struck down some portions relating to lung cancer. His ruling leaves intact conclusions that secondhand tobacco smoke causes respiratory illness in children, asthma,and SIDS. Read an analysis of the implications of the Osteen decision here.
Other sins which touch on the issue of tobacco are listed below. Some of these are not necessarily practiced by every smoker, or have less serious social consequences:
1. Littering on public and private property.
2. Causing forest fires by throwing lit objects on public and private property.
3. Harming wildlife who ingest littered cigarette butts.
4. Remaining in chemical addictionto a substance.
5. Engaging in what the entire world agrees is a "filthy and disgusting habit."
6. Using a gateway drug to harder drugs.
BUTIT CAN'T BE A SIN
We have shown that smoking is harmful to one's own body and causes harm to the bodies of others. We may have difficulty in understanding sin if we commit one of the following logical errors about what constitues a "sin." Here are 10 very weak arguments against smoking being a sin.
1. "Is obesity then a sin?"
Gluttonysure is a sin. But not all obese people are gluttons, nor are all gluttonsobese. This presentation, however, focuses on the sins which harm others.Very few obese people are stuffing fried chicken down the throats of babies and restaraunt workers!
2. "But a lot of good decent Christian people that I respect do it."
We respect Christians who have witnessed to Christ, and His plan for saving us from sin. There have been many times in history in which large segments of Christianity were blind to certain forms of sin.
3."I thought it was a sin until I learned that my son was doing it."
How many of us have sinless family members. Having a family member engulfed in a sin may give us insights as to how to approach someone with this addiction, but it doesn't say anything about the sinfulness of the act. If we cannot picture a family member as a "bad person," desparately needing redemption, then maybe our understanding of sin is too weak.
4."It would be too difficult to regulate or to have government ban this outright."
First of all, not everything immoral needs to be illegal, and the difficulty in making something illegal is not proof of it being moral in God's eyes.
5."It seems impractical to make this a condition for the office of pastor/ priest."
The epistles give conditions for the office of bishop which seem to exclude those with certain lifestyle sins-- ie., those who are not the "husband of one wife." I don't seek to add to the biblical witness on excluding on the basis of other sins, as we would eventually exclude everyone!
6."Jesus Christ himself made charcoal fires for cooking which put smoke and pollutants into the air. Is He a sinner and 'murderer' as per Luther's Explanation?"
I reject the doctrine that anything Jesus did in His lifetime may be done with impunity to greedy excess and to the harm of others, just because "Jesus did it and He was sinless." Jesus rightly condemend this uncompassionate legalism when he saw it in the Pharisees. For a modern understanding of sin, it's best to read the Journal of the American Medical Association witha penitent heart rather than Archeology Today with a sarcastic heart.
First,Jesus would have made fires to feed himself, and tobacco use is not necessary to the body. Tobacco users certainly have the option to choose not to smoke in front of children. Second, at the Wedding of Canaan, Jesus gave people more wine to celebrate a wedding. One would be hard pressed to say that moderate use of wine at family celebrations is a sin. However, drunkenness, making people drink involuntarily, and enticing youngsters to drink surely would be considered sins.
7."Is baking my neighbor a fatty cake or giving my nephew sugary gum therefore a 'sin,' as the fat in the cake and the sugar in the gum 'harm my neighbor'?"
Stuffing cake down your neighbor's throat or creating situations in public places where children get gum stuffed in their mouths surely is a sin. I'm sure that you were talking about giving people the choice not to be exposed to your cake or gum. In studying Luther's Explanation to the commandment, we learn that opportunities for both sin and good works abound! If you want to do good works for your neighbor, your gifts can be "even nicer" by baking her a low-lard cake, or giving him low-sugar gum! Similarly, you can do good works for your neighbor's children by not creating places that are full of tobacco smoke for them to be exposed to!
8. "Is use of incense in churches or Jewish temples then a sin?"
Again, we have the doctrine that if Jesus or faithful Jewish priests participated in an activity, we may therefore do it to greedy excess and to the harm of others. I doubt anyone would say it is a sin for a Catholic priest to burn gasoline in the engine of his car as he carries the Eucharist and a cake to a shut-in lady. It is quite another thing for this priest to commit arson with gasoline, to neglect grossly the maintenance of his engine such that it pollutes excessively, or to light bonfires on his property to the discomfort of an asthmatic hospital ward nearby. Then, the priest's use of gasoline might be considered sinful, certainly uncharitable.
9. "Jesus' enemies probably would have tried to trap him by insisting that he not sit downwind from the smoke of the campfire. Otherwise, he wouldn't be treating his body as a Temple."
I don't wish to argue to the issue of harming yourself or "not being absolutely as healthy as possible." In debates on this topic, many people incorrectly insist that the sole moral argument against smoking is the harm to yourself.
10. "Some liberals want to expand the concept of 'sin' to cover all sorts of necessary human behavior, including that of excrement."
. It all depends on where you do it.
WHAT THEN MUST WE DO?
#1. EXAMINE YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH GOD
As succinctly put by C.F.Walther, a brief statement of [Law and] Gospel: "You are a lost and condemned sinner, you cannot be your own Savior. But don't despair on that account. There's One who has acquired salvation for you. Christ has opened the portals of heaven to you and says to you: 'Come, for all things are ready. Come to the marriage of the Lamb.' " C.F.W. Walther, The Proper Distinction between Law and Gospel,p. 72
A. SMOKING NON-CHRISTIAN
We pray weekly in the Confession to our Lord "I have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed, by what I have done and by what I have left undone." The activity of smoking is but one more of the many sins you are already praying to God for help with. Pray to God for help in overcoming this sin. In the meantime, consider giving up smoking in public places, especially where other parents may bring their children in contact with your smoke.
B. SMOKING CHRISTIAN
This group has the biggest challenge, because of the danger of pride. We may see someone engaging in a filthy habit that is harmful to others and end up so proud that we forget our own need for the redeeming grace of Jesus.
C. NON-SMOKING CHRISTIAN
"Therefore you have no excuse, whoever you are, when you judge others; for in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you the judge are doing the very same things." Romans 2:1. Each of us may be engulfed in sins as worse as smoking. Pray for an understanding of the difference between "judging" and speaking the truth in love.
Jesus also warns us, "Why do you see the speck in your neighbor's eye but do not notice the log in your own eye?" Luke 6:39-45. If we are concerned about the treatment of children and air pollution, consider addressing these sins in your own lifestyle first and foremeost before going after others' sin.
This presentation may not have much to say to people in this situation. C.S. Lewis, a Christian scholar from Britain in the 1950's, reasoned his way from being a non-theist to being a Christian. For C.S. Lewis, knowing that there was a Power who wanted to hold us to a higher standard of conduct was helpful to his faith. In his book Mere Christianity, he said, "For the problem is that part of you is on [God's] side and really agrees with His disapproval of human trickery and greed and exploitation."
D. NON-SMOKING NON-CHRISTIAN
#2 PUT ALL SIN INTO THE PROPER CONTEXT.
If you are a liberal, consider treating smokers with the same respect that you would want family values activists to treat homosexuals with. If you are a conservative, consider treating homosexuals with the same respect that you would want health activists to treat smokers with. For example, some people are concerned about Scout leaders 'setting a bad example for our youth' by having an alternative lifestyle, shouldn't we also be concerned about Scout leaders who offer smokeless tobacco to our children? (As I was offered?)
A. LOVE THE SMOKING (and other) SINNERS!
Ifyou have compassion for the tobacco farmer who is under intense economic pressure to continue selling a deadly, addictive drug, shouldn't we also strive for equal compassion for the cocaine farmer in Columbiadoing the same things? I'm not advocating legalizing one drug or banningthe other. We should strive to respond compassionately to those caughtup in the selling of deadly substances. I think that both of types of farmers need more carrot than stick.
B. LOVE THE SINFUL FARMERS!
Have you ever strongly disagreed with another Christian on an issue, say abortion, nuclear weapons, economic libertinism, or homosexual sexual relations? Has your disagreement ever been so strong as to doubt the other person's sincerity or belief in a high view of Scripture? While there is One Absolute Standard taught by God, we Christians sure have had a tough time agreeing on its day to day implications! Pray for the courage tospeak the truth in love to your fellow Christians, and also for the courage to see the biblical truth in your opponents' arguments.
C. LOVE THE ERRING THEOLOGIANS!
Friends of Dr. Everett Koop have compiled tips on how to quit here,here,here,and here. A vast compilation of links for those trying to quit can be found at tobacco.org.
#3 HELP YOUR FRIENDS TO QUIT
OTHER RELIGIOUS VIEWS ON SMOKINGSee the report of the Meeting Report on Tobacco and Religion by the Tobacco Free Initiative of the World Health Organization.
The Greek Orthodox Church has recently called its members to repent from smoking See a pdf summary of their report.
Christians Against Cigarette Selling offers a very thorough although at times strident case against tobacco use.
The New Covenant Church of God's web page considers the issue uf smoking under, " Just a Puff?
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