Wednesday, May 05, 2010


Should Christian college students smoke cigarettes?

First, we should clarify that this issue is one of wisdom. God has not declared cigarettes sinful and therefore neither should we. And in principle this also means that cigarettes may be smoked to the glory of God.

But the question is should Christian young people smoke cigarettes? Is it a good idea? Is it wise?

There are at least two biblical principles that we ought to consider when we ask this question, and they come under the headings of authority and love.

First, it must be recognized that for better or worse the symbol of smoking cigarettes has become a fairly universal symbol in North America of rebellion. This does not mean that everyone who smokes cigarettes is in rebellion, but it is a fairly wide spread symbol of rebellion. From the hippies to the rock stars to the frat boys, the symbol is a slightly more subtle version of the middle finger to authority.

Now there was a time when smoking cigarettes was far more culturally acceptable. And I can imagine a time in which Christian families gathered around after dinner for post meal smokes somewhat like how many of us will have coffee or tea after dinner today. Maybe my perception of that era is distorted, but the point still stands. I can imagine a Christian culture where smoking (in moderation) is an acceptable social pastime. In such a culture, kids could grow up and share an occasional smoke with their parents and grandparents and neighbors and everyone was in fellowship and could do it all to the glory of God.

And maybe, just maybe, postmillenially speaking such a culture will emerge in a thousand years. But the way to building such a Christian culture is not through Christian teenagers and college students telling their parents where to stick it.

And that brings us to the point about authority. One of the most helpful questions to ask when deciding whether it is a good idea to smoke cigarettes is the question: what do your parents think? I suppose there are probably a few Christian families here and there and various subcultures where smoking is still relatively acceptable. Well, good for them. But for lots of us who have grown up over the last few decades, the frowns and grimaces and sideways glances are not, I can assure you, repressed feelings of approval.

The entire weight of the Scriptures is not, "Children, just don't make your parents really mad." But we read it that way sometimes, and as long as mom isn't hyperventilating and dad hasn't exploded and called the elders, we shrug our shoulders and tell ourselves it must not be a big deal. They're only a little mad, we assure ourselves piously.

But honoring parents is not merely passive. Disobedience does not merely come in the form of sins of commission (doing what they have expressly forbidden). Dishonor and disobedience also come in the form of sins of omission. We can dishonor our parents by not actively bestowing honor, for not looking for ways to bless them, for not looking for ways to please them. If you asked them, "Is there anything that I'm doing, that you wish I would stop?" -- would smoking be on the list? Then drop it. Even if they're wrong, it should be an easy, black and white decision. Our job as young people is to honor our parents, to pile up honor and blessing for them.

And related to this would be the fact that our "father and mother" include all those in authority over us. If 9 out of 10 of your elders, pastors, and teachers would frown at it, why do it? Aren't we called to love? And love not only covers multitudes of sins, it looks for ways to die for others. Ordinarily, in our culture, cigarettes are self-serving and the only other people thankful for your indulgence are your friends who also know deep down (or not so deep down) that dad would really not be pleased with this. Is that love?

And so moving right into the second principle, the principle of love, Paul said that meat offered to idols is clean, and Christians were free to eat it but if he knew his doing so would cause a brother to stumble he would rather be a vegetarian than eat prime rib offered to Athena. The principle is that we should be willing to give up lots and lots for the unity of the body.

So you confess that you believe in the communion of saints? But which communion are you talking about? If you're talking about the body that you gather with week after week to worship with, how do they like those smokes? And shrugging your shoulders and saying that no one has ever said anything to you about it, doesn't mean it's not a problem, it just means that you have brothers and sisters who are more polite than you.

Two last thoughts: I write all of this somewhat autobiographically. These are convictions that I have come to over time, but which I did not always recognize or practice. And in the grand scheme of things, I really don't think this is a hill to die on in either direction. I don't think elders and pastors ought to have campaigns to eliminate all the twenty year old cigarette smokers from their congregations. And I know good, upstanding Christians who smoke. God bless them. But neither do I think that young people should make this their own pet campaign either, even if privately with their close friends back behind Bucers or Starbucks. I do believe that the next generation of Christians ought to look for ways to improve upon their elders, but do we really want to claim that the next great reformation will be in the form of Camels and Marlboros?

My advice: Don't be a crank or a whiner, but look for ways to love and bless the body of Christ. Ask your parents what they think, and look forward to listening to them, following their example, and be hungry to find ways to die to yourself in order to love and honor them. And my guess is that there are many people who already know what their parents think and have some repenting to do.


thunderberry said...

Cigarettes are a cultural phenomenom and carry with them not only rebellion, but a stance to be in control when things are out of control. They are very expensive, and i dont know how welfare people can afford them..they are like a drug they do damage to your body...they smell bad and they make your teeth rot....Who wants this only those who have a yearning to fit in the culture. If you say you dont smoke yu are looked at as a strange person. Whe i see someone suck that cigarette it is used as a coping mechanism and a way to deal with stress..a bad way to deal with stress.....

Anonymous said...

Great article! Extremely relevant, especially for college students living on secular campuses, where the social culture is saturated with drugs and alcohol - I feel that many of my brothers and sisters may turn to smoking as an "acceptable" way to feel like they fit in with the culture.

That being said, I do wonder where occasional smoking - that is, a cigar smoked in a social setting, or going to smoke hookah in a group - falls in with all of this. Quite different from being a habitual cigarette smoker in my mind. Any thoughts?

Toby said...


I think the same principles would apply to an occasional cigar or hookah party. What do your parents think? What about your pastor or teachers? And what signal is it generally sending to friends? If everyone's cool with it, and your mom thinks it's great and the pastor will join you next week, then I don't think there's any problem. But if the cigar and the hookah are just a slightly more subtle form of rebellion, which most peoples' folks frown on, then I'd advise staying away.

Emily said...

I have long wondered about this issue myself. I don't think it's sinful to smoke, but it certainly is sinful to cause your family pain when they're still your main pillar and support.

Thank you for such a balanced and thoughtful post!

And happy birthday to Mrs. Having-Two-Legs!

P.M. said...

I think there are a couple of things worth mentioning that you did not address. First, cigarette smoke is harmful to your body. Since our bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit are we to purposely do things to harm it? I don't think so. God gave us our body to use for His Glory and therefore we should care for it.
Secondly, cigarettes are addictive. You become a slave of whatever you are addicted to.

Anonymous said...

Toby, this is Nana speaking. I agree with P.M. and would add another thought. My Mom told me that a Christian is to live like Jesus Christ and He would not be seen walking down the road or across the field with a cigarette in His mouth! This picture has stuck with me throughout the years.
Nuff said.