Wednesday, November 4, 2009


When our Free Reformed fathers came to North America they smoked cigars, pipes and cigarettes. They loved to settle down with a nice cup of coffee and an aromatic cigar. We used to say, "You're not a man if you don't smoke". We secretly (or openly?) snickered at those over- zealous Baptists who proclaimed smoking a great evil. However, our ladies were not supposed to smoke, smoking was for men; men were masculine and strong. Men smoked.

But men have also paid the price. For instance, lung cancer is the most common form of malignant tumour of the respiratory tract system, and it began increasing in frequency at an alarming rate about 1940. In 1980 it was the leading cause of cancer deaths in men and today it is also rapidly increasing in women. As a matter of fact, in the mid-80's nearly 6 million new cancer cases and more than 4 million deaths from cancer were being reported world-wide each year. To bring it a little closer to home: about 400,000 Americans die each year from breathing their own smoke. In Ontario, where most of our churches are, over 14,000 residents die every year from smoking-induced lung cancer.

Did you ever stop to think how much grief is caused by so many deaths every year? Many people are fatalistic. They reason that if they will get it, they will get it. They will just "hope for the best." Or they may be optimistic. Just because there is a warning on the label, it doesn't mean that I will get it. Some say: my grandfather became 98 and he smoked like a chimney!

When we talk about smoking, many say that we should not be judgmental about others. You have bad habits too, they say, and therefore, mind your own business! What I do in the privacy of my own home or vehicle is my responsibility and will affect no one else.
Is this true? Will your premature death not affect your loved ones? Doesn't your smoking affect the health of your spouse and children? Do you, by smoking, set a good example for your children? Isn't the likelihood great that they will catch the addiction and become smokers themselves? Can you by smoking be a good Christian witness in your environment? Do you not present a stumbling block to those who are struggling to quit the habit?

Reports about smoking are plentiful. Just ask the lung cancer society and you will have all the statistics you will (n)ever want to know. Let's see what the medical community has to say about smoking.

First some background. Smoking most commonly refers to the practice of inhaling smoke from burning tobacco in a pipe, cigar, or cigarette. American Indians smoked pipes and European explorers introduced the practice into the Old World by the early sixteenth century.
Controversy over the health effects of smoking has existed ever since that time. Cigarette smoke consists of more than 4,700 compounds, 43 of which are carcinogens, such as tar and nicotine--a poisonous alkaloid, which is considered the addicting agent that makes quitting smoking so difficult. Nicotine is an extremely poisonous, colourless, oily liquid alkaloid that turns brown on exposure to air. The most potent ingredient of the tobacco plant, Nicotiniana tabacum, is found mainly in the leaves. Both nicotine and the tobacco plant are named for Jean Nicot, a French ambassador who sent tobacco from Portugal to Paris in 1560. Nicotine can affect the human nervous system, causing respiratory failure and general paralysis. It may be absorbed through the skin. Only two or three drops (less than 50 mg.) of pure alkaloid placed on the tongue is rapidly fatal to an adult. A typical cigarette contains 15 to 20 mg. of nicotine. However, the actual amount that reaches the bloodstream and hence the brain through normal smoking is only about 1 mg. Nicotine is believed to be responsible for most of the short-term and many of the long-term effects of smoking and for the fact that tobacco smoking is such a powerful habit. Nicotine yields of cigarettes have declined by about 70 per- cent since the 1950's, largely due to the popularity of filter-tipped varieties.

By the early 1960's numerous clinical and laboratory studies on smoking and disease had been made. In 1964 a committee appointed by the surgeon general of the U.S. Public Health Service issued a report based on the critical review of previous studies on the effects of smoking. The report concluded that nearly all lung cancer deaths are caused by cigarette smoking, which was also held responsible for many deaths and disabilities from various illnesses such as chronic bronchitis, emphysema, and cardiovascular diseases. A more recent study estimated that about 400,000 Americans die each year from inhaling their own smoke.

As for your non-smoking spouse and children, a 1984 report by the Health Service also suggested that passive inhalation of smoke by non-smokers is very harmful. Although considered controversial at the time, studies have since confirmed these charges. Some experts estimate that passive smoke kills as many as 50,000 Americans a year, and it is the third leading preventable cause of death, behind smoking and alcohol. Studies have shown that children are particularly sensitive to passive smoke and that pregnant women who smoke may harm the fetus. Smoking during pregnancy affects fetal growth and development due to increased carbon monoxide and decreased oxygen in the blood. Babies are smaller, sicker, and more likely to be stillborn. In addition, babies born to women who used drugs during pregnancy may be addicted to the drug at birth.

Should parents of little children continue to smoke? Is this responsible Christian behaviour? Is smoking sin?

Edward T. Welch strongly posits in his book,
Addictions, A Banquet in the Grave, Finding Power in the Hope of the Gospel,

"that we live in a culture that encourages self-indulgence. It should be no surprise that addictions are everywhere. Addiction is not a disease and sin is not a sickness. Scripture emphasizes sex, food, and alcohol (a category which would include modem mind-altering drugs) as the most common addictions and these appetites remain the most prevalent. Yet the list of potential taskmasters is always growing. Addiction was once a term used for the chronic heavy drinker. but over the past two decades its turf has expanded dramatically. Now the list of addictive substances and desires is limited only by our own imagination. as we see here:

anger, alcohol, music, gambling, work, caffeine, love, exercise, nose drops, shoplifting, radio, cocaine, sex, money, lying, chocolate, sleep, nicotine, sports, internet, risk, pain, sugar, success/winning, TV, weightlifting, ipods, pornography, computer games, fashions, gossiping etc.

Some criticize the widening scope of addictions, claiming that when a category expands too much it loses its meaning. But God's Word anticipates the way the term is being applied to more and more behaviors. The thing that drives addictions can be found in every human heart.

For example: we all have had experience with unruly desires that don't take no for an answer. If we are afraid to admit it, we can take our cue from the apostle Paul who said. "1 have the desire to do what is good. but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do" (Rom. 7:18-19). Indeed, "the addiction experience is the human experience." -
This broader view of addictions is important because it challenges us to examine what drives addictions instead of focusing on the particular drug of choice. What is it about our humanness that leaves us susceptible to being overtaken by certain desires? Why do alcoholics, drug addicts, smokers, compulsive shoppers, and secret indulgers in pornography crave things that are wrong or unwise? Why do we inordinately desire things that, in themselves, might be legitimate (money, approval from others. comfort) but then become too important to us?

Why do we have a hard time saying no to our desires? Since the answers to these questions strike at the core of our humanness, the biblical teachings are relevant to us all.

Definition of addiction – “ Addiction is bondage to the rule of a substance, activity, or state of mind, which then becomes the center of life, defending itself from the truth so that even bad consequences don’t bring repentance, and leading to further estrangement from God.”

How the addict views his or her addiction:
“We don’t want to be ruled by alcohol, drugs, sex, gambling, food, or anything. No, we just want these substances or activities to give us what we want: good feelings, a better self-image, a sense of power, or whatever our heart is craving.

Idols, however, do not cooperate. Rather than mastering our idols, we become enslaved by them and begin to look like them.”

There is only one way in which sin can be dealt with; there is only one way in which sin can be destroyed! There can be no salvation for those who aren’t convinced of the wickedness of sin. It is only when one acknowledges that his external actions originate from a sinful heart that he will flee to the only Saviour of sinners: the Lord Jesus Christ! It is only by repentance towards God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ that one can ever begin to conquer any sin. This is the only way in which the guilt, punishment, or power of sin can be removed from your life. There is no hope in renaming your sin ‘disease’ – for then you become merely a victim of circumstance. But when you take responsibility for your sins – when you acknowledge your sin – there is forgiveness with the Lord! There is only hope when you call sin, sin! There is no hope when you call sin, disease. "

Since 1964, health warnings have been mandated on tobacco advertising, and the use of such advertising has been restricted. Most of the states in the United States, as well as the Canadian federal government, have passed laws to control smoking in public places such as restaurants and work places, where non- smoking has become the rule. In Toronto and most other cities smoking is banned from all public places. American and Canadian airlines have prohibited smoking on flights. Among the military, the U.S. Army has been particularly strict in imposing smoking restrictions.

Despite the help available from various organizations many people apparently find it impossible to quit smoking. But surely, with God's help, any addiction, including smoking, can be overcome!

Are we getting the message?

The tobacco industry and many smokers regard anti-smoking measures as harassment, whereas many non- smokers defend the measures on the grounds that the government has a duty to discourage harmful practices, that public funds in one form or another are used to treat diseases caused by smoking, and that smokers pollute the air for non-smokers.

Smoking is not only a dangerous addiction, but it is also the source of many ailments and much suffering, both for the smoker, and for the relatives of the smoker who have to assist him or her through the various stages of life-threatening diseases which most smokers experience.

A clinic in one the southern States which specializes in the healing of complicated fractures, found that for (then) unknown reasons, it took twice as long for some patients to heal their bones as it did for others. It did not matter what kind of fracture the client had, but if it normally took, for instance, six months to heal, it would take twice as long for some patients: a full year for exactly the same fracture. This baffled them for quite some time, but after much research it was discovered that the difference was caused by smoking. In each case the non- smokers would heal in half the time. The reasons for this soon became evident. Substantial healing requires great amounts of oxygen. Lungs which are very polluted cannot supply much oxygen, and furthermore, if they are filled much of the time with smoke, resulting from a fire at the end of a cigarette, which uses most of the oxygen they need for their healing process, it is clear that all healing will be greatly delayed.

Some researchers have estimated that if Americans stopped smoking cigarettes, lung cancer deaths could virtually be eliminated within twenty years. Lung cancer has also risen rapidly in developing nations because of the spread of cigarette smoking, so that it has becomes the leading fatal cancer in the world today.

Although cigarette smoke contains many initiating agents, the cessation of smoking results in a negligible risk of lung cancer after a year or so. Can you think of a better incentive to stop smoking?

The evidence that smoking is dangerous and deadly is overwhelming. Yet many of our older people continue to set a poor example for our youth. Also, many young people are starting to smoke. Is it not time to act in a principled manner and decide that smoking is harmful, not only to your own health, but also to the health of your children, especially teen-agers and all who come within the reach of your smoke?

Have we not allowed this terrible practice to go unchallenged far too long? Is it healthy for office bearers to smoke? Do they give a good example to the congregation? How can an elder or pastor who is addicted to nicotine (and thus in bondage) counsel and admonish young people who are enslaved (in bondage) to Rock music?

In light of the above statistics, can there really be any doubt that smoking is harmful to our bodies? Let us hear God's Word on the matter: What, know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? For you are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God's (1 Cor.6:19,20.)

These are searching questions, are they not? Perhaps those who still smoke are unhappy with this article. You may argue that other people have other bad habits. This is probably true. But is this an excuse for your addiction? Admittedly, it is very difficult to break out of an addiction. Despite the help available from various organizations many people apparently find it impossible to quit smoking.

But surely, with God's help any addiction, including smoking can be overcome!

Is it responsible to have part of your resources go up in smoke when you can support a needy child in a developing country for the same amount of money? Even when you can afford to smoke, are you a good steward of your funds when a considerable amount of your money goes up in smoke annually? Is it not better to give it for the cause of the Lord, such as missions or evangelism? It will not cause illness, but instead spread the Gospel!

It seems that in this matter the world is providing better leadership than the church. By banning smoking from all public buildings and areas, the children of this world show they are wiser than the children of light (Luke 16:8). Society has recognized the evil of smoking and its disastrous consequences for the health of the population.
Particularly the effect of second-hand smoke is seen as very dangerous. In light of this, what are we to think of Christian parents who smoke in their home or car and pollute their little ones? It is a fact that many smokers have children who smoke. In many cases they have been introduced to the habit by second-hand smoke and by the example of their parents.

Can we do anything about this matter? Should we do anything? I believe the answer is "yes." Churches which have implemented a NO SMOKING policy on their premises (and I believe that most of our churches have) , are to be commended for their initiative and the love and care shown to their members. This policy shows that as a whole, the church recognizes that this addiction is unethical. But the church can do more:

1) We can pray for those who are addicted to the habit and striving to be delivered.
2) Each church which has not yet done so, may consider banning all smoking from all its premises, inside and outside buildings.
3) Consistories can lead by example and only nominate non-addicted brothers for the office of pastor and elder.
4)Consistories can decide to make smoking and its detrimental health effects on children (especially smoking of mothers-to-be) a topic of discussion at home visitations.
5) Church leaders can sit down with young people who are prone to take up this evil habit and urge them not to do so.
6) Family members and friends can support and encourage their brothers or sisters and so help them in the struggle to find a release from this dangerous addiction.

This is an article reprinted (updated and expanded) from the Messenger of April 1994.
Editor's Note: The following guest editorial is by Mr. Chris Van Doodewaard, a member of the Editorial Committee.