Should a Christian Smoke?

The Bible has nothing to say specifically about smoking, as during biblical times it was unknown. Let us quote briefly (and selectively) from the website which has this to say about the history of tobacco:

“Tobacco has a long history in the Americas. The Mayan Indians of Mexico carved drawings in stone showing tobacco use. These drawings date back to somewhere between 600 to 900 A.D. Tobacco was grown by American Indians before the Europeans came from England, Spain, France, and Italy to North America.

“Tobacco was the first crop grown for money in North America.  In 1612 the settlers of the first American colony in Jamestown, Virginia grew tobacco as a cash crop. It was their main source of money. Other cash crops were corn, cotton, wheat, sugar, and soya beans.  By the 1800’s, many people had begun using small amounts of tobacco. Some chewed it. Others smoked it occasionally in a pipe, or they hand-rolled a cigarette or cigar. On the average, people smoked about 40 cigarettes a year. The first commercial cigarettes were made in 1865 by Washington Duke on his 300-acre farm in Raleigh, North Carolina. His hand-rolled cigarettes were sold to soldiers at the end of the Civil War.

“It was not until James Bonsack invented the cigarette-making machine in 1881 that cigarette smoking became widespread.”

It will be self-evident that this was not a problem that Christians may have faced until the 19th century but it has subsequently become a problem for quite a number of those who have been called to God’s Way of Life. Today, people may smoke cigarettes, pipes or cigars or they may chew tobacco because they have become addicted to it; or because they feel depressed or suffer from anxiety and look for stress relief or a way to calm down. Also, they may smoke because they think this might help them to lose weight, or because their friends and relatives smoke. Whilst the Bible has nothing to say about a habit that would arise about 200 years or so ago, basic biblical principles apply.

Let us look, first of all, at some Scriptural principles.

In 1 Corinthians 3:16-17 we read the following: “Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?  If anyone defiles the temple of God, God will destroy him. For the temple of God is holy, which temple you are.”

True Christians are those who have repented of their sins, believe in Jesus Christ’s Sacrifice and the gospel of the Kingdom of God, have been baptised by full immersion for the remission of their sins and have received the Holy Spirit by the laying on of hands of God’s true ministers (see Acts 2:38).   In such cases, the body is the temple of the Holy Spirit of God which we read about in Romans 12:1: “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service.”   These principles are further reinforced in 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 where we read: “Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who (better “which”) is in you, whom (better “which”) you have from God, and you are not your own?   For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s.”

It seems reasonable to assume that in a literal temple smoking would be prohibited and why should the body be any different when explained in the verses quoted above?   In all that we do, in all of our activities, our emphasis should be on honouring God, rather than ourselves.

As one commentator opined: “Does tobacco smoke coming out of your nostrils glorify God?   Does the smell of tobacco on your body offer a good testimony for Jesus Christ?”   The answer should be obvious.

However, this injunction is not to be limited to converted Christians. Someone who wants to become a Christian should take this principle to heart as well and not begin or continue with a habit which clearly violates God’s instructions of right living.

1 Corinthians 10:30-31 states the following: “But if I partake with thanks, why am I evil spoken of for the food over which I give thanks?   Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”   Can it be to the glory of God to inhale smoke with all of the health problems associated with it (to be covered later) and set a good example of Christian behaviour by breathing smoke over those close by?   In verse 32 we read: “Give no offence, either to the Jews or to the Greeks or to the church of God”, and there is no doubt that many would be offended in the world, let alone Church members.

On the website of the American Heart Association in an article entitled “Why is it so hard to quit?”, the following comments are made: “It’s hard to tackle the physical addiction to nicotine. Cigarettes contain nicotine, a highly addictive substance found naturally in tobacco.  It travels quickly to the brain when it is inhaled and can cause a feeling of temporary relaxation and/or stress relief. Nicotine can also elevate your mood and your heart rate. But this feeling is only temporary. After your body rids itself of the drug, you start to crave another cigarette.  Shortly after you finish smoking a cigarette, your body starts to show signs of withdrawal. You start to crave another cigarette to overcome these symptoms, starting a vicious cycle of dependency.”

Based on the above comments about addiction, Romans 6:16 ought to be taken very seriously: “Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one’s slaves whom you obey, whether of sin leading to death, or of obedience leading to righteousness?”   It can be very difficult to give up smoking as many find out when attempting to do so and it can enslave those who have this habit.   It can lead to lust for more of the same and thus it is breaking the 10th Commandment.   In Romans 6:12 we read: “Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in its lusts.”

Over the years there have been a few Church of God members who have smoked, even after baptism.   They know that it is wrong but the addictive nature of smoking can cause them great difficulty in giving up the habit.  In Romans 14:23 we read: “But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because he does not eat from faith; for whatever is not from faith is sin.”   By knowing that something is wrong but doing nothing about it, or trying to give up the habit and not succeeding, is sin.

The following quote is from Wikipedia: “A smoking ban in England, making it illegal to smoke in all enclosed work places in England, came into force on 1 July 2007 as a consequence of the Health Act 2006. Similar bans had already been introduced by the rest of the United Kingdom before this — Scotland on 26 March 2006, Wales on 2 April 2007 and Northern Ireland on 30 April 2007.” This all came about because of the serious health risks associated with smoking.

The health risks of smoking are many.   Smoking is one of the biggest causes of death and illness in the UK.   From the website is the following information:

“Every year around 100,000 people in the UK die from smoking, with many more living with debilitating smoking-related illnesses.  Smoking increases your risk of developing more than 50 serious health conditions. Some may be fatal and others can cause irreversible long-term damage to your health.

“Smoking causes about 90% of lung cancers. It also causes cancer in many other parts of the body, including the mouth, lips, throat, voice box (larynx), the oesophagus (the tube between your mouth and stomach), the bladder, kidney, liver, stomach and pancreas.  Smoking damages your heart and your blood circulation, increasing your risk of developing conditions such as coronary heart disease, heart attack, stroke, peripheral vascular disease (damaged blood vessels) and cerebrovascular disease (damaged arteries that supply blood to your brain).

“Smoking also damages your lungs, leading to conditions such as: chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), which incorporates bronchitis and emphysema and pneumonia.”

Reading all of those health risks, it is a wonder that anyone smokes at all, particularly a few Church members who have had this habit over the years.   But as this same website observes: “You can become ill if you smoke yourself or through other people’s smoke (passive smoking).   Second hand smoke comes from the tip of a lit cigarette and the smoke that the smoker breathes out. Breathing in second hand smoke – also known as passive smoking – increases your risk of getting the same health conditions as smokers. For example, breathing in second hand smoke increases a non-smoker’s risk of developing lung cancer by about a quarter.”

Those comments bring us on to further biblical principles that we should take seriously in all areas of our lives. This would certainly include those who smoke and here are the verses that talk about it:

In Mark 12:28-31 we read Jesus Christ’s reply to a question from a scribe:

“Then one of the scribes came, and having heard them reasoning together, perceiving that He had answered them well, asked Him, ‘Which is the first commandment of all?’ Jesus answered him, ‘The first of all the commandments is: “Hear, O Israel, the LORD our God, the LORD is one.  And you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.” This is the first commandment.  And the second, like it, is this: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” There is no other commandment greater than these.’”

We are told to love our neighbour and that is certainly not accomplished by smoking in the presence of others who may have personal health difficulties with cigarette smoke, whilst others may resent the smell of smoke on their own clothes even though they may be a non-smoker themselves.   Such action by a smoker is not looking to the best interests of others – just satisfying their own addiction to something that is a serious health hazard.   We read in other verses how we should have care and consideration for others as part of our Christian Way of Life.

These comments are directed to those self-centered individuals who smoke and who thereby violate God’s command of love towards themselves and their neighbours. When it comes to passive smoking, those who are potentially affected should try to do the best they can, within reason, to avoid becoming victims of second-hand smoking. We realize, of course, that this is not always entirely possible—for instance, when they are in a work environment where people may smoke or when they find themselves in other unavoidable situations, but they can always pray to God to give them wisdom and protection from physical harm.

In brief summary, there are enough principles to lead us to the conclusion that smoking is a sin and must not be a habit of any Church member and that it is also addictive and has numerous health risks both to the smoker and those who, in their company, become passive smokers.   We should be well aware of the effect that it can have on others both by example and by potential health risks even to non-smokers.   As a side issue, it is a waste of good money which could be spent more usefully elsewhere.

We are to follow the example of Jesus Christ and, based on the evidence of Scripture, He would not have smoked if cigarettes, cigars or pipes had been available in His day; nor would He have chewed tobacco.   That, together with all of the evidence in this Q&A, should be more than good enough to teach us that smoking is wrong and a sin. For further information, please view Norbert Link’s recent sermon, “What Does the Bible Say About Smoking?” 

Lead Writer: Brian Gale (United Kingdom)