China Bridge (神州橋樑)_2011/Sep

Smoking and the Bible

On May 31, the world celebrated World No Tobacco Day. The Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) of the World Health Organisation (WHO), the first treaty under the organisation’s constitution, was adopted on 21 May 2003 and came into force on 27 February 2005. It has become one of the most rapidly and widely embraced treaties in United Nations history.

The FCTC was developed in response to the globalisation of the tobacco trade consumption and is an evidence-based treaty that reaffirms the right of all people to the highest standard of health.

The convention represents a milestone for the promotion of public health and provides new legal dimensions for international health cooperation. Its goal is to protect present and future generations from the devastating consequences of tobacco consumption and exposure to tobacco smoke.


The tobacco industry has a long history and was even used as a kind of medicine in early times. An interesting story tells of diplomat and scholar, Jean Nicot (1530-1600). He was the French ambassador in Lisbon, Portugal, from 1559 to 1561 and when he returned to France, he brought tobacco plants with him. He introduced snuff to the French court.

The plant was an instant success and more and more people of Paris began to use it. The tobacco plant, Nicotiana, was named after him, but nicotine later came to refer only to the particular chemical in the plant. Nicot described tobacco’s pharmaceutical properties and sent it as a medicine to the French court.

In the New World, tobacco was later used as a cash crop in places like the American south where slaves, were worked to the bone planting and harvesting the plant to make cigarettes and other tobacco products. Smoking became a way of life for some people.

Early smoking bans

Soon after its introduction to the Old World, tobacco came under frequent criticism from state and religious leaders. Murad IV, sultan of the Ottoman Empire, 1623 to 1640, was among the first to attempt a smoking ban by claiming it was a threat to public morals and health. The Chinese emperor, Chongzhen (崇禎), issued an edict banning smoking two years before his death and the overthrow of the Ming dynasty. Later, the Manchus of the Qing dynasty, who were originally a tribe of nomadic horse warriors, would proclaim smoking “a more heinous crime than that even of neglecting archery” (Wikipedia).

Religious leaders have often been prominent among those who considered smoking immoral or outright blasphemous. The head of the Catholic Church, Pope Urban VII, condemned smoking in holy places in a papal bull of 1624.

Despite many concerted efforts, restrictions and bans were almost universally ignored.

In the 17th century, tobacco products and sellers were many. Some scrupulous rulers realised the futility of smoking bans and instead turned the tobacco trade and cultivation into lucrative government monopolies. By the mid-17th century, every major civilisation had been introduced to tobacco smoking.

In the 20th century, we have learned a lot more about the dangers of smoking cigarettes. The WHO is actively educating people everywhere and calling on governments, civil society and communities to stay vigilant and work together to prevent interference in policy-making.

Tobacco use kills nearly six million people in the world every year, with deaths from heart disease, strokes, cancer or emphysema.

Tobacco-related deaths account for 63 per cent of fatalities stemming from non-communicable diseases in the world. Second-hand exposure to cigarette smoke causes an estimated 600,000 deaths a year (China Daily, 1 June 2011).

It may be legal to buy cigarettes and other tobacco products, but they often lead to suffering and premature death.

The bible and health

Does the bible teach us about the dangers of smoking tobacco? We may not find an explicit reference to smoking tobacco, but regarding the overall aspect of keeping our bodies healthy, we can find many references in the Old and New Testaments. From St. Paul, “Everything is permissible for me, but not everything is beneficial. Everything is permissible for me, but I will not be mastered by anything” (1 Corinthians 6:12).

Many people today say they find smoking a cigarette is beneficial for study, relaxation and hard work, but perhaps they have let themselves be mastered by the tobacco. Good health is something we often take for granted until we start to lose it. When we start to have health problems, we should question our diet and habits.

God has designed the human body to be a finely tuned instrument that is the most resilient on earth. It can endure fractures, constant pain, muscle strains and so on, but that it is a fragile instrument, because it is not built to handle excess, whether in the form of nourishment, fuel or additives.

Unlike machines, it chokes on poisons when ingested in unending doses and mistaken for fuel. Though the body has moving, feeling and thinking parts, they can be misused. The bible is not a medical book, but it is God’s word and reveals many basic principles for good physical, mental and spiritual health (Got Questions Ministries).

A major part of the bible’s health instruction dates back to the time of Moses. In our day, many researchers and medical doctors are stunned at the accuracy and effectiveness of its many provisions.

Laws given by God to Moses contain remarkable rules pertaining to public health, which concerns us even today: water and food contamination, sewerage disposal, infectious diseases and health education. These issues were all dealt with in the Mosaic laws (The Wycliffe Bible Encyclopedia).

The bible gives us the foundational key to physical and mental health. That key is simply this, “My son, do not forget my teaching, but keep my commands in your heart, for they will prolong your life many years and bring you prosperity… This will bring health to your body and nourishment to your bones” (Proverbs 3: 1-2).

“Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labour on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me and eat what is good, and your soul will delight in the richest of fare” (Isaiah 55:2).

New awareness

The World Health Organisation has been exposing the health dangers linked to cigarette smoking to all nations for a long time. Some 173 countries have ratified the FCTC.

How have the governments of mainland China and Hong Kong responded? They adopted the treaty in 2003. Both governments have been promoting ways to stop people lighting up, but there is still much more the authorities can do in the battle against first and second-hand cigarette smoke.

China’s tobacco industry is 100 per cent state-owned and it produces more cigarettes than any other country. China is said to have over 300 million smokers and over 740 million people exposed to second-hand smoke.

“The tobacco industry is acting against the principles of public health, and the WHO (Framework Convention on Tobacco Control) guidelines make clear the tobacco industry should have no influence on tobacco control policy. The state monopoly is actually an advantage to China, since it allows the government to control the industry’s actions and influence in policymaking” (WHO official).

Many in the health industry have long called for representatives of the tobacco industry to be kicked out of the work group charged with putting the WHO treaty in effect (China Daily, 1 June 2011).

The tobacco industry in China now generates about seven per cent of the Chinese government’s annual revenue. Although a boon to society in one way, health experts argue that this is overshadowed by lost productivity and overwhelming medical costs linked to the deaths and illnesses caused by tobacco consumption (China Daily, 1 June 2011). A lucrative business indeed!

Hong Kong is one of the better performing parts of the world when it comes to quitting smoking. Data shows that between 30 and 43 per cent of smokers who joined programmes offered by the Hospital Authority and the Department of Health, stayed smoke-free for a year. That is higher than the international average of 25 to 33 per cent.

Most of the world’s smokers can be found in the western Pacific region and Hong Kong, being a part of that region, is doing the best job of reducing smoking. Its smoking rate of 12 per cent is the lowest in the region (South China Morning Post, 31 May 2011).

Hong Kong and other countries are calling upon their Food and Drug Administrations or Health Departments to change the warning labels on cigarette packaging, since the words of warning over the years seem to have been mostly ignored.

Now, some countries are using grisly photos of lungs blackened by smoke, rotting teeth and gums, a mother and baby with smoke swirling around on the packages to show the health risks of smoking. (Yahoo News, 22 June 2011). One picture is worth a thousand words.

We, as Christians, should do all we can to help educate ourselves and others about the dangers of smoking. Governments, schools, businesses, Churches and families must play their roles in exposing the dangers of cigarette smoke for the smoker and the passive smoker. We can find many more quotes from the bible to show that we are responsible for our health. Some people might say that smoking is a habit they can’t seem to break, or don’t wish to break. For them, I have a few more quotes.

“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13).

“The Lord will guide you always; He will satisfy your needs… and will strengthen your frame” (Isaiah 58: 11).

“Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honour God with your body” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).