Faith in Focus

Cigarettes and the believer


Cigarettes have been in the news recently. A tobacco company in the US has recently admitted that it has known all along that smoking is disastrous for people's health - their own studies show it. In spite of knowing this and believing it to be a fact they have continued to advertise and sell cigarettes, in particular targeting teenage girls in their advertising.

What this shows is the deceit of big business who seek money at the expense of the health of others. What this also highlights is a universal agreement that smoking is bad for you physically. Not only medical science, government agencies, lobby groups like ash and individuals, but now a cigarette company all agree - smoking kills.

The statistics are irrefutable

We cannot avoid this conclusion in a country where, a recent report has shown, each day 40 young New Zealanders take up smoking. 4,500 deaths per year are caused by smoking. One in six deaths is due to smoking. Cigarettes are to blame for one fifth of deaths of middle-aged women(35-69). One in five Maoris die in middle age because of smoking. Nearly half the people who die from smoking die in middle age. Of all the deaths due to respiratory conditions, 41% are due to smoking. 94% of lung cancer patients are smokers or former smokers. Since the 1950s lung cancer has been the leading cause of cancer death in New Zealand men. About one in ten smokers will die of lung cancer. These statistics are just the tip of the iceberg. There are myths about smoking that are still alive as well. It is a myth, for example that less than ten cigarettes per day will not harm your health. A 40 year British study has shown that most smoking related deaths occur in those who are light to moderate smokers. While heavy smokers (over 20 per day) have an increased risk, moderate smokers (10-19 cigarettes) and light smokers (Under 10 per day) are those who make up the bulk of the death statistics. And it is a myth that a smoker is only damaging his own health.

Passive Smoking

The argument that people should be able to smoke if they want to, because they are only hurting themselves, doesn't stack up against the evidence. Innocent non-smokers can suffer dramatic health problems from what is termed passive smoking. The passive smoker is the person who has to breathe the air that is full of cigarette smoke poisons put there by an active smoker - whether it's in public, at work or at home. Cigarette smoke contains up to 4,000 chemicals. 43 of these chemicals are cancer producing. The smoke contains carbon monoxide - a poisonous gas, nicotine - an addictive drug and radioactive compounds that are well known causes of cancer. Cigarette smoke contains hydrogen cyanide - the gas used to execute criminals in American gas-chambers. It contains pesticides including DDT and toxic metals including arsenic and nickel.

The cancer society tell us, "smoke inhaled through the cigarette is called mainstream smoke. Smoke released into the atmosphere by the cigarette and the smoker is called sidestream smoke or environmental tobacco smoke. There is twice as much sidestream smoke as mainstream smoke. Non-smokers who breathe the sidestream smoke are passive smokers. Sidestream smoke contains far larger amounts of some poisons than mainstream smoke. Sidestream smoke contains at least 40 cancer-causing chemicals. Non-smokers exposed to sidestream smoke while at work can inhale the equivalent of five or six cigarettes each day. Scientists can determine if non-smokers have inhaled sidestream smoke by measuring chemicals from the smoke in their urine, saliva and blood. Chemicals in sidestream smoke can cause irritation to the eyes, nose, throat and the lower respiratory tract. Healthy non-smokers can get lung and other cancers from breathing in sidestream smoke. Around 270 New Zealanders die each year from lung cancer and heart disease caused by passive smoking. A non-smoker living with a smoker who smokes 20 or more cigarettes a day is twice as likely to die from lung cancer as a non-smoker who does not live with a smoker."

Further information can be added. Sidestream smoking can also trigger asthma attacks in adults and in children, according to a report in Healthlink South. Professor Celermajer of Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, Sydney, says studies link passive smoking with an increased risk of heart disease. These are uncontrovertible facts.

The power of example

It is well known that you are more likely to smoke if your parents do. Part of the reason for this might be that you are already suffering an addiction through passive smoking. There is no doubt that many would not be smoking if their parents had not. This point hardly needs elaboration.

A Christian response

What should the Christian attitude be towards smoking? We need to go to the Word of God to inform our answer with His principles.

It is evident that several factors are highlighted by the above facts.

  1. Smoking damages the health of many people who are smokers, even causing premature death. Even if you have a great-aunt who lived to a hundred and thirty while smoking 50 cigarettes a day and washing down hamburgers and chips each day with a bottle of whisky, you have no way of knowing that you will have her happy outcome.
  2. Smoking damages the health of other people - in particular the vulnerable babies and children.
  3. Smoking costs significant resources in hard currency.
  4. A smoker is an example for others to follow and hence a smoker leads others into a death-trap.
  5. Smoking is evidence of addiction and therefore a lack of self-control.
  6. Paying for cigarettes supports an evil industry with money God has given you.
  7. Smoking by a Christian tells a non-Christian as well as covenant children that all the above are OK.

But are these things OK? In other words are these things in accord with the principles of God's Word?

Exodus 20:13 "You shall not murder."

This hardly needs much comment. Clearly smokers are contributing wilfully to their own death and the death of others. I really like the way the Westminster Divines discussed the Ten Commandments. They were pretty comprehensive. The sins forbidden in this commandment include "all taking away the life of ourselves or of others…" (LC Q&A136). But they also show that the Commandment has a positive requirement as well. "The duties required….are, all careful studies and lawful endeavours to preserve the life of ourselves and others…."

1 Cor.10:31. "Whether then you eat or drink or whatever you do; do all to the glory of God."

Does smoking fulfil the criteria here? I think not. Is the self imposition of a premature death, the wasting of money and a contribution to the poor health and even death of others to the glory of God? To ask the question is to answer it. If there is any doubt regarding the matter, it's best to be on the safe side and quit, "Whatever is not of faith is sin" (Romans 14:23).

1 Cor. 6:19,20. "Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God and that you are not your own?"

This refers to the individual Christian's body. Paul goes on to say we are to glorify God in our bodies. We have the wonderful privilege of having the Holy Spirit dwell within us. This knowledge should affect us greatly about what we do with our bodies.

Romans 14:21 "It is not good to eat meat or drink wine or do anything by which your brother stumbles."

Our liberty is always constrained by our love of others.

1 Cor 6:12 "All things are lawful for me, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be mastered by anything."

If this is true of lawful consumption how much more is it true of addiction to a substance that kills?

As an ex-smoker, I talk as one who knows the difficulty of breaking a habit and not from a sanctimonious position of judgement. But it is clear to me that smoking cannot be justified because of its real health risks alone.

For that reason it is a bad witness, at the very least, for Christians to smoke. It shows unbelievers and covenant children that Christianity is not really about preserving the body that God has given us as the vehicle of the soul, but may be abused. This depreciating of the value of the human body is not a Christian idea, but a Greek idea. We are to treat our bodies too as redeemed by the blood of Jesus Christ. We look forward to the day when we will be clothed with our resurrection bodies, but in the mean time we are to treat God's creation with the utmost reverence and respect as good stewards of all He has given us. If you are in bondage to this habit, please read the cancer society list that follows - 20 good reasons to stop smoking. And please consider your duty before God to live according to His revealed will out of gratitude for what He had done for us in our precious Saviour the Lord Jesus Christ.

But we must also add that addiction is a very real problem - yes Christians can be addicted to substances. And when someone took up smoking many years ago, these health risks were unknown. The longer you have been smoking the more difficult it will be to give up; and so we must be patient and tolerant and understanding about that as well. This too should be part of our response to smoking, both within the church community and outside it.

GM.

20 Good Reasons To Stop Smoking

(From the Cancer Society)

1. Tobacco smoke contains at least 50 known toxic or cancer forming substances.

2. Smoking is linked to cancer of the lung, mouth, larynx and oesophagus.

3. Nine out of ten lung cancer deaths are due to smoking.

4. Lung cancer deaths are higher than any other type of cancer.

5. Smoking helps promote cancers of the bladder, pancreas, kidney, stomach and cervix.

6. Nine out of ten deaths from bronchitis and emphysema are due to smoking.

7. Women who smoke have a greater risk of infertility, miscarriage, premature labour, still birth, early neonatal deaths, earlier menopause and osteoporosis.

8. Smoking while using oral contraceptives increases the risk of heart disease and stroke by at least 10 times.

9. Around eight out of ten heart attacks in men under 45 are associated with smoking.

10. Arterial disease is associated with smoking and kills more people than cancer does.

11. Nine out of ten people with circulation problems are smokers.

12. Smoke is an irritant and within hours can cause eye irritation, sore throats, nasal symptoms, dizziness, nausea and headaches in those who share closed spaces with smokers.

  1. Children exposed to a parents' smoke are more likely to suffer from asthma and more likely to be admitted to hospital with bronchitis and pneumonia.

  1. Glue ear in children is more common when children are exposed to parents' smoke.

  1. Babies born to smoking mothers tend to be smaller at birth.

  1. Parental smoking is associated with cot death.

  1. Smoking ages the skin prematurely.

  1. Teeth get stained brown with nicotine.

  1. Smokers suffer from more gum disease than non-smokers.

20. At a rate of 20 cigarettes/day a smoker will pay around $2000 per year to support the habit. Over 20 years that is $40,000 - two cars, a major house extension, your children's education.


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Faith in Focus /NZ Reformed Church / gmilne@ihug.co.nz / revised June 97 / Copyright 1997