By Dennis Tucker
On November 19th, the American Cancer society had its Great American Smoke Out. Smokers were encouraged to give up their tobacco for at least one day. They hoped that at least a small minority of those who participate permanently will give up the habit. I don’t remember when this event became an annual occurrence, but it is estimated that 5 million fewer smokers participated this year than did last year. Just the fact that we are talking in the millions shows how many people are affected.
In this article, I want to examine the smoking issue from a little different view than is usually taken. First of all, I was raised in a major tobacco state (Kentucky). On a recent news program, it was said that in 1976 over one-half of the adult population in Louisville smoked. In Kentucky, tobacco is big business. Near Bowling Green, Kentucky, there used to be a billboard that read: “80,000 jobs are created by the Tobacco Industry in Kentucky.” Of those 80,000 many are farmers who would not be able to survive without this valuable cash crop. Brown & Williamson, Philip Morris, and American Tobacco are companies that have, or still employ, a large number of people in the Louisville area. In the early 1970s, one out of three cigarettes made were made in Louisville. The state of Kentucky receives both taxes from the crop itself and from the sale of the cigarettes. All of this is to illustrate just how vital the tobacco industry is to the economy in my home state. I have heard all of the arguments which either allow or condemn tobacco. Speaking against tobacco in Kentucky is about like preaching against mixed swimming in Florida. Hard working and honest Christians would be hurt if people gave up either smoking or swimming in those states. It is my hope that by looking at the effects of tobacco, it will be easier for Christians who smoke to quit.
First, smoking deteriorates your lifestyle. If you smoke one pack of cigarettes a day (many smoke up to 3 packs), you are spending about $30 a month, or $365 a year, on a product that you burn in your mouth. Not only does it take money that you could use for something you need, but it also destroys clothing, causes carpet burns, and stinks up the room. Smokers develop the “Smokers Cough”: the first two things that a smoker must do in the morning is start coughing and then light up a cigarette. It is my understanding that when a smoker sleeps, the nicotine settles in his lungs and must be stirred up; after going 8 hours without a cigarette, he then craves more nicotine. Smokers hurt the lifestyle of the people around them. While writing this portion of this article, I was in an airport that was filled with cigarette smoke. I had to eventually move to a different terminal because it was making me ill. Smokers need to realize that just because they want to fill their lungs doesn’t mean others want tot do the same. Smoke which fills a room is worse than the smoke that a smoker puts in his lungs. This “secondary smoke” does more harm and is more sickening than the smoke that is directly inhaled. Parents who smoke in the car are doing an injustice to their children.
Second, smoking is a bad habit. Everybody has some habits. Usually when you mention to a smoker the idea of it being a habit, they will compare this to drinking coffee or chewing gum. We need to realize that not all habits are bad. Just because you do something habitually (chewing gum) does not automatically place you with the smoker. But let’s say for the sake of argument that chewing gum is a bad habit. You chew gum (which is bad) so I will smoke (which is just as bad). This is the same argument that is used with sin (you committed a sin so I can sin). Or, at least my habit is not as bad as drinking. I used to bite my fingernails, and people (especially my mom) used to get on my case. My response was that everybody has a bad habit, and at least mine wasn’t really hurting anybody. Even while I made that argument I realized that I was justifying doing less than my best, and doing my best is required of every Christian. So I quit. Smokers need to replace that bad habit with a good habit.
Third, smoking causes health problems. Smokers will eventually develop emphysema; all smokers do. This means that they will have trouble breathing, and walking or singing will cause them to be out of breath. It is sad to hear a person, who once could sing, have to rush through a song because of his bad lungs or to hear a once beautiful voice now sound raspy. Even more alarming is the connection between smoking and cancer. Each year in Kentucky 2,600 people will die of cancer. If you smoke, your chances of dying of cancer are 20 times greater than the non-smoker.
Consider the actual agony of cancer. While in Florida, I spent considerable time with people who had cancer. There are some things that stand out about the illnesses: (1) It is very painful. It will rob you of your energy and any joy you have. Cancer victims die a slow death. In fact, each day they feel worse than the day before. Eventually, any little task (walking or sitting) is impossible, and the person actually prays for his own death. (2) Cancer has time on its side. Usually when we get sick, our bodies use time to heal or rid itself of the problem. Cancer uses time to wear the victim down. It will give you today or tomorrow, but eventually it will win. (3) There is the mental agony that it could have been avoided. Most people would never shoot their own foot or chop off a hand, yet they choose to increase their chances of getting cancer by smoking.
“Why should I quit?” This is a common question. I can not actually say that smoking is a sin (although I feel that it would be for me), but I can point out this fact: smoking is selfish. If God allows you the right to commit slow suicide with a cigarette, he does not allow you to purposely hurt others. Think of your children. The mental pain and agony of watching a loved one die of cancer is great. They will see you die a little each day and have their lives turned up side down. Your grandchildren will grow up either remembering your death or without any memory of grandmother or grandfather. It is the responsibility of parents to love and teach their children. This is impossible if you are dead. I have a father who smokes, and I hope that he will quit. I hate the idea of losing him to cancer. I also feel a little hurt because he loves that cigarette enough to risk having to leave his children and grandchildren.
Smoking is selfish because it also robs the church of your abilities. People who once could lead singing or give sermons are no longer able to do so. You have to be able to breathe to sing, and you must be alive to teach.
It is my sincere hope that Christians who smoke will see not only the effect that smoking has on themselves but also the effect it has on the church and their families. Surely anybody who loves their God, their brethren, and their family will chose what is best for them.
Guardian of Truth XXXII: 5, pp. 148-149
March 3, 1988