Taking on the Tobacco Habit
Taking on the Tobacco Habit

Tobacco use was discussed about once a year during Christian Standard’s first century of publication. Smoking evidently has always been controversial. All of the articles reviewed for this piece were anti-smoking and anti-tobacco in nature, but it would truly be surprising if no words supportive of tobacco ever appeared in the magazine.

On the whole, most writers going back to 1866 referred to the tobacco habit as dirty, costly, and unhealthy. A “Reader’s Forum” writer from Angola, Ind., in 1931 referred to tobacco as “the Devil’s weed,” and criticized Christians who sold it.

Here are a trilogy of editorials and articles about smoking and tobacco use. The first two are rather sarcastic editorials.

_ _ _

Oh, No, Surely Not!

An Editorial
Dec. 28, 1929; p. 15

In the course of the investigations following that terrible fire in the New York moving-picture studio [10 people died], a fire inspector expressed the opinion that the fire was caused by a cigarette surreptitiously smoked.

Now, we submit that an accusation like that is quite unfair. We appeal to the entire public as witnesses that the cigarette smokers are not at all inclined to such carelessness or such disregard of the ordinary precautions of safety as this inspector implies. Where has any one seen such carelessness?

If we were to take the inspector seriously, we would be led to suppose that it is a rather common thing for cigarette smokers to disregard fire hazards, to carry fire around carelessly where highly inflammable materials are present. . . . A charge like that would lend color to the idea that cigarette smokers violate rules and regulations in order to indulge their own personal appetites. We would have reason to believe that cigarette smokers carelessly fill the air with smoke that is offensive to others and strangling to some, and that they do this even when these others need to be comfortable to do their work effectively. We might be led to believe that cigarette smokers carelessly flip their ashes and the unextinguished butts . . . upon the floors of public buildings. We might be led to suppose they would be guilty of “lighting up” on Pullman cars, elevators and streetcars a few minutes before dismounting.

A charge like that of the inspectors would mean that a man or a woman actually was guilty of the destruction of human life to gratify appetite.

Oh, no, inspector, you can’t make the public believe these things against the cigarette smokers.

_ _ _

But We Can’t Smoke All of Them

An Editorial
Aug. 1, 1936; p. 4

These cigarette advertisements are getting quite disturbing. Each one of them warns us against perils in the other cigarettes. Formerly it was coughs, but that idea seems to have worn out. There seem to us to be just as many coughs in a carload—for us as well as the smoker.

It seems now, however, that we run the risk of not being able to digest our dinners properly unless we have a smoke of one particular brand. But if we take up that one we shall have to miss the one that is cool. And then, what about the one that is good to one’s nerves? And if we smoke these, we must forego the one that “satisfies.” Not to speak of the one that does not leave in the sweet young lady’s breath that odor which, for some strange reason, is supposed to be offensive.

Well, we give it up.

_ _ _

A pause is in order, for this next article is more serious. It begins with grim snapshots of the very real dangers of smoking.

It was written in 1989, a quarter-century after the 1964 Surgeon General’s report that smoking causes cancer, which led directly to health warning labeling on cigarette packaging and the banning of cigarette advertising on broadcast media.

This article was written by Paul R. Barnes, who continues to serve in ministry, the last 23-plus years with Madison Christian Church, Groveport, Ohio.

_ _ _

Up in Smoke

By Paul R. Barnes
July 9, 1989; p. 4

The church secretary’s appearance turned ashen. She had just received the news that her thirty-seven-year-old neighbor had been admitted to the coronary intensive care unit. Since his teenage years, he had been a three-pack-a-day smoker.

A lovely young lady is seven months pregnant. In the course of a one-hour conversation she smokes a total of six cigarettes. Despite the potential danger to her developing baby, she laughs it off as “my only vice.”

A seventy-year-old gentleman lies in a bed in the step-down unit of the local hospital. He is on a heart monitor and is receiving oxygen. Diagnosis: congestive heart failure. His lament: “I wish I had never smoked.”

At the risk of raising the ire of the tobacco lobby in the church, I wish to suggest that Christians need to give the most careful consideration to their use of this deadly product. I have preached in the part of the country where tobacco is the main cash crop and Burley is king. I am sympathetic to the economic realities for those persons in the “Burley Belt.” I have a great deal of compassion for those who regard the cigarette as their best friend. Upon reviewing the evidence that tobacco is both psychologically and physically addictive, one must feel a great deal of concern for those chained to the habit.

Extremes exist in the viewpoints of Christians. To some, smoking constitutes a major deterrent to the credibility of one’s witness. It is a reason for automatic disqualification from consideration for church leadership. Others are almost trite in their acceptance. Preachers have joked, “Smoking won’t send you to Hell. It will just make you smell like you have already been there.” One preacher in a major tobacco-producing area gave the ultimate rationalization, “I have never seen a man smoke a pack of cigarettes and come home and beat his wife.”

While I am not convinced that smoking is sinful, I am certain it is not smart. Most smokers would agree. Studies have shown that the vast majority would like to quit.

Today we are hearing much about “smoker’s rights.” People have a right to smoke. In teaching about “gray areas” the apostle Paul does say, “Everything is permissible” (1 Corinthians 6:12, New International Version). One of my best friends, a fellow church member and fishing buddy, smokes three packs per day. He has a perfect right to do it. I have the right to wish he did not. I am well within my rights to wish that my friend, whom I hope to have around for many subsequent fishing trips, will voluntarily abandon the number one preventable cause of death in America today.

Why not?—Although it is a very convincing and definitive argument, I do not want to merely rehash the fact that our bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit. Perhaps we should appeal to the smoker on the basis of common sense. The New York Times recently reported on the tobacco industry’s newly launched campaign, “The Great American Welcome.” They wish to become known as the defender of smoker’s civil rights. They are forming a nationwide network of restaurants, hotels and other business that welcome smoker’s patronage and promise to treat them with courtesy and respect.

A great deal of significance should be attached to the fact that the Tobacco Institute (that represents all major tobacco companies) with their smooth spokespersons are the only ones who choose to ignore scientific studies that have linked smoking to lung cancer, heart attack, and stroke. Common sense tells us not to ingest poison. Common sense ought to form a good basis for rejection of the tobacco habit.

For Christians, there is also the argument from the standpoint of stewardship. Yes, smokers would have more to give to the work of the Lord if they did not spend money on cigarettes. Certainly, if we are called to account for our use of resources, it could be difficult to explain why over the course of a lifetime a rather large sum of money has gone up in smoke. We are all stewards of life, and possibly the most convincing evidence is an insurance industry study that shows that, on the average, smokers die seven years earlier than non-smokers.

Also for Christians, there is the fact that we are to be considerate of one another. This goes beyond just the issue of passive smoking. . . .

Studies by Farmers Insurance Company and Columbia University show that smokers have almost twice the auto accident rate of non-smokers. Non-smokers are subsidizing the insurance rates of smoking drivers. All of that sounds less than considerate.

None of us have been called to sit in the judgment seat. We must treat those who choose to smoke with proper respect. If smokers ask you to pray for them as they make an attempt to quit, do it. Be supportive. Be loving. Do all that you can to keep their lives from going up in smoke.

Paul R. Barnes lives in Tiffin, Ohio.

— — —

In his article, Paul Barnes references a “fishing buddy” friend who “smokes three packs per day.” Well, that story has a happy ending.

“He probably quit three or four years after that [article appeared] . . . and is clicking along today,” Barnes said this week. Both the man who smoked and his wife read the article in 1979, and “they knew right away who I was talking about,” he said.

—Jim Nieman, managing editor, Christian Standard

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