Smoking is powerfully addictive and causes many damaging and deadly health problems. It negatively affects other family members. But is smoking a sin?
Smoking tobacco may be the most prevalent addictive habit on earth. Approximately a third of all adults—2 billion people worldwide—are smokers. And every day 2,800 more people become addicted and join the ranks of daily smokers.
Are there reasons a Christian should not smoke? Is smoking a sin?
Impact of smoking on health
Most people today know that smoking is not good for one’s health. As MedicalNewsToday.com notes: “Smoking is responsible for several diseases, such as cancer, long-term (chronic) respiratory diseases, and heart disease, as well as premature death. Over 440,000 people in the USA and 100,000 in the UK die because of smoking each year.
“According to the US CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), $92 billion are lost each year from lost productivity resulting from smoking-related deaths. … Smoking is the largest cause of preventable death in the world” (“Why Is Smoking Bad for You?” March 3, 2011). Additionally, some researchers estimate that as many as 50,000 people die every year from exposure to secondhand smoke.
The fatal health risks are well documented, but they aren’t the only problems caused by smoking. Smoking makes one’s breath and clothes smell bad, stains one’s teeth and fingers, increases the likelihood of insomnia, increases the likelihood of psoriasis, causes premature aging, causes one’s hair to turn gray or fall out sooner, causes narrowing of blood vessels and leads to increased dental problems (“15 Ways Smoking Ruins Your Looks,” Health.com).
From a health perspective, it is obviously better not to smoke, but that doesn’t answer all the questions. What is one to do if he or she is already smoking and physically addicted to smoking? What about just having an occasional or celebratory smoke? Is it okay for a Christian to smoke?
What the Bible says
Even though the Bible does not speak specifically of smoking, it does bring out principles that we can apply. And because there’s so much indisputable scientific information available about the extreme danger of smoking (and the secondhand smoke that children, mates, coworkers and friends are forced to endure), no one can argue that it is just a bad personal habit.
Not our own
The apostle Paul gives us some clear and direct guidance to consider: “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you were bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20, New Revised Standard Version).
Our human bodies were carefully and lovingly designed by God, and He clearly expects us to take care of them, not deliberately engage in practices that cause them harm.
Also in that passage we read that we were “bought with a price.” The price was the blood of Jesus Christ. He paid the penalty for our sins, redeeming us to God. In a very real sense He also purchased our lives—from baptism onward we belong to God and are expected to live holy lives. We need to understand that those carefully and lovingly designed bodies are now God’s property, and we are expected to take good care of them!
Love our neighbors
God also expects us to think of the needs and welfare of others, and the impact of our actions on them. Jesus said, “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39). In this passage, He was answering a critic’s challenge to tell His audience what is the greatest commandment of them all. Jesus said that loving “the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind” is the first and great commandment, and then immediately added loving your neighbor as yourself as being a second great commandment.
His command to care about one’s neighbor is a repeat of a command God had given Israel in Leviticus 19:18. When we know the dangers, it clearly isn’t appropriate for us to cause others to inhale our secondhand smoke—since it can damage their health and even take their lives.
So, is smoking a sin? By putting these scriptures together, we can perceive God’s mind on the issue. He is deeply concerned about how we live and how we treat our bodies, which are “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14). Considering these scriptural principles and honestly trying to apply them to how we live our lives, we must draw the conclusion that smoking is indeed a sin.
Some may ask, “What if I smoke only occasionally? Wouldn’t that be okay?”
Granted, occasional smoking may limit the amount of nicotine, tar and other toxic compounds entering the body to relatively small quantities, but that doesn’t justify inhaling even small quantities into our lungs. Why should a Christian deliberately put any of the 250 toxic chemicals found in cigarette smoke into his body? What justification can we possibly use to poison a body purchased by God?
With every puff of smoke, some internal damage occurs. Some have claimed they don’t inhale. However, even if the smoker doesn’t inhale, his body still absorbs toxic chemicals through the sensitive mucous membranes of the mouth and nose. Not inhaling does not eliminate the harmful effects.
Does it make sense to deliberately choose to harm our bodies and, more importantly, sin—even on just an occasional basis? There are certainly much better ways to celebrate a special occasion than by lighting up a cigarette, cigar or pipe!
How to stop smoking
Now that you have a better understanding of God’s mind on the matter, what can you do if you are already a smoker and addicted to tobacco, with all its toxic elements? Nearly 70 percent of smokers express a desire to quit, and upwards of 40 percent attempt to quit every year. But it isn’t an easy task!
If you want to stop smoking, your first step is the same as with any sin: admit your sin to God in prayer and ask for His help in overcoming this habit. Ask for His forgiveness and the strength and help you will need to overcome this bad habit. Then it is time to take action.
Some few are able to immediately stop “cold turkey,” typically only 3 to 4 percent of all who attempt to quit. Others are able to use various aids such as nicotine patches to steadily reduce the amount they smoke, so that in a matter of days or weeks they are free of smoking.
But smoking is highly addictive, and there are some people who are much more heavily addicted to nicotine—the habit-forming drug in tobacco products—and they face a more difficult struggle.
For these individuals, overcoming smoking could be one of the most difficult challenges they may ever face. In some few instances, the urge to light up may come back from time to time, and they may have to struggle for years with this habit. There are numerous professional treatment plans and trained professional counselors available to help those who sincerely want to kick the habit.
Make smoking a thing of the past!
Modern research clearly shows the destructive results of smoking, and some governments are now taking steps to increase the warnings on tobacco products and reduce their usage. The Bible reveals God’s mind toward anything that destroys our bodies or inflicts harm on others. Smoking therefore is a sin, and something Christians should work diligently to remove from their lives.
If you truly desire to overcome this bad habit, remember that struggling to overcome is what God expects. It may not be easy, but character is built through the struggle. And the great God of creation greatly respects and rewards those who do put out the effort and overcome (Revelation 2:7, Revelation 2:11, Revelation 2:17, Revelation 2:26;Revelation 3:5, Revelation 3:12, Revelation 3:21).