Smoking and Health: The Often-Overlooked Key

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Smoking and Health

The Often-Overlooked Key

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"I've given up on trying to quit smoking. You're wasting your words on me. I just can't do it."

We—many of us—have been there. We sympathize. And we want to help.

Wouldn't you like to quit smoking—for good? Or help someone else quit? Or help yourself or your children to never start smoking? Or just better understand a monumental problem that wreaks havoc with health, happiness, productivity and longevity?

You are about to read a perspective different from what you find in most articles on smoking, a perspective that should give you hope, an incentive and confidence.

A smoking habit is more than just a bad habit; it is a powerful chemical addiction as well as a psychological and social addiction. Tobacco contains an active ingredient—nicotine—that is a highly addictive drug.

Nicotine, in its pure form, is extremely toxic. A whole family of insecticides is made from it. Tobacco smoke also contains tars and other toxic chemicals, many of which have been proven to cause cancer. But tobacco can't be blamed for all of cigarettes' potential to damage smokers' health. Cigarette manufacturers add many chemicals to the tobacco, paper and filter for various reasons. The use of tobacco products is the single greatest avoidable cause of death in the Western world.

How dangerous is tobacco?

Some people, knowing or hearing of others who have smoked all their lives and were still going strong in their 70s or 80s, have convinced themselves that smoking isn't all that dangerous. Although it's true that some people have good genes and strong immune systems that can withstand the worst ravages of smoking, they also nonetheless will have bad breath, stained teeth and family and friends who don't like to visit much—not to mention seeing thousands of dollars go up in smoke.

But here is what is usually overlooked: Cases of smokers who live to a ripe old age are rare, and will likely become even more so. In the industrialized nations, the amount and variety of chemicals in the environment are proliferating exponentially. Each chemical that enters one's body places an additional strain on the body's ability to cleanse itself, function properly, heal and stay well. And, when two or more chemicals synthesize, they combine to form a new chemical that may be even more deadly.

Also, when two or more chemicals interact, they can create new deleterious effects that none of the chemicals would cause independently. Most people's bodies are under a severe strain from the chemicals they eat, drink, breathe and absorb through the skin, as well as other health problems. Using tobacco adds one of the most enormous burdens of all. Smoking is a highly risky behavior.

Nicotine addiction

Many tobacco addicts say smoking helps calm their nerves. What they may not realize is that this tranquilizing effect is the result of becoming addicted to nicotine. When a little time has passed since the last cigarette, the nervousness results from the start of withdrawal symptoms—the "nicotine fit." The body is simply craving another dose of nicotine, for which smoking another cigarette provides the "fix." However, after a person has been a nonsmoker for a few weeks, he is less nervous overall than when he was smoking.

Is there any way to avoid withdrawal symptoms? Modern medicine has made it much easier. When a person tapers off of cigarettes or has already stopped smoking, his symptoms of nervousness, anxiety and irritability can be greatly lessened with medications.

One type is nicotine-replacement therapies (NRT), including nicotine patches, gums, nasal sprays and inhalers. Another type is bupropion, marketed under the brand names Zyban and Wellbutrin. Both types usually can be used at the same time. Consult with your doctor about medications.

Taking the first steps

You probably already know smoking is bad for you. So why read more about it? Good question. One is much more likely to kick the habit if he understands why and how it is bad and how to effectively overcome it. Many sources of antismoking information are interesting, practical and valuable.

Reading isn't the only way to learn. Readily accessible are audiocassette recordings, videotapes, professional counselors and support groups. Most people who want to lose an addiction do better with support from others, including former smokers. Like an ad for a center offering help to those with a drinking problem says: "If you don't get help from us, please get help somewhere."

Perhaps the greatest value in educating yourself about the dangers of tobacco is that such education is motivational. A fresh reading of available materials brings you face to face with reality and your own mortality. We need to respect healthy fears that prod us to avoid and flee danger. Becoming more conscious of the need to forsake smoking strengthens the desire and commitment to do it. A smoker needs will, not just a wish.

You might compare a stop-smoking plan to baking a cake. The cake needs all the necessary ingredients, not just a huge amount of one or two ingredients. This article isn't an attempt to offer all the ingredients, although many will be touched on. Practical advice and other information concerning smoking are available in abundance on the Internet and in print, much of it free of charge. The point is that an effective stop-smoking plan needs to include all the ingredients—that is, implementing valuable tips, tools, techniques and approaches at the same time.

The all-important missing ingredient

Several ingredients may be missing in your stop-smoking plan, but one component is usually always missing, and it is the most important of all. Though many smokers may quit their habit without this ingredient, success is more likely with it.

The all-important ingredient is the spiritual dimension. Often people seeking spirituality or religion may look for guidance and power in the wrong directions. More specifically, the right direction—the necessary ingredient—is learning God's astounding purpose for mankind, seeking to conform to His ways and seeking His powerful help to liberate us from any addiction. The Creator of the human body and mind understands His creations perfectly. He knows how best to care for and repair them. He hasn't left us in the dark. The Bible is His Word, inspired and preserved by Him to serve as our instruction book for life.

Jesus Christ, during His earthly ministry, regularly demonstrated His love, mercy and concern for others by healing the sick. He taught that God always wants to help us, but we must first ask for help. "Ask, and it will be given to you," He says (Matthew 7:7). Although stopping smoking may seem impossible, He tells us that "the things which are impossible with men are possible with God" (Luke 18:27). Are you a slave to an addiction? Jesus said, "Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed" (John 8:36).

Sadly, many people think that about all religion has done for them is to make them feel guilty and condemned. Smokers usually already carry a burden of guilt, and they don't want more piled on. But God's purpose for His Church is to be a source of great encouragement and help, like a mother to her children. Jesus said, "Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest" (Matthew 11:28). The Church of God (Acts 20:28) is not like an honorary society of overachievers but more like a spiritual hospital for people who see their need for encouragement and healing. We are broken in different ways, and we need the Great Physician, Jesus Christ (Matthew 9:12).

This doesn't mean God is satisfied for us to remain the same—to remain sick or continue living contrary to His instructions. We must seek to be made whole and actively strive to live the way He wants us to. God calls to be His disciples people who have all kinds of problems, including addictions—but, just as the original 12 apostles kept changing and growing, we must go forward. We cannot remain where we are. Inevitably, if we do not grow spiritually we will slip backwards.

We have no good excuse for staying in a rut. If we commit ourselves to pleasing God, He is committed to empowering us. If we set right goals, put forth an all-out effort and ask for God's help, He will give it (Matthew 7:11).

Scriptural principles against tobacco use

Smoking and tobacco use aren't mentioned in the Bible for the simple reason that both were unknown in biblical lands until explorers brought them back from North America, where the indigenous natives had long smoked tobacco. So can we be sure that God disapproves of smoking?

Absolutely. God objects to smoking just as He disapproves of any abuse or neglect of our bodies. Let's look at the biblical evidence.

God inspired the apostle John to write, "My dear friend, I pray that everything may go well with you and that you may be in good health—as I know you are well in spirit" (3 John 2, Today's English Version). God wants us to enjoy good health. Many of His laws recorded in the Old Testament are safeguards to health, with instructions covering safety, sanitation, hygiene, food, moderation, rest, negative attitudes, anxiety and more, as discussed in other articles in this issue.

These laws reflect the validity of the old maxim "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure." It's clear that God is concerned about our health and wants us to be concerned too. In fact, He commands us to take care of ourselves. Tobacco purveyors want you to smoke because they make money from your habit. But God cares about you.

Being health-conscious is not necessarily self-centered. A healthy person can do more for others and for God (compare John 15:16). That's the way God wants us to look at the pursuit of wellness.

Our bodies and minds belong to God

In fact, we should not live as if we have the option to neglect our health. God has jurisdiction over what He has created. What He created He owns. He's the boss, and He wants His workers to be healthy. He commands us, in a sense: Stay healthy!

This ownership concept is expressed in 1 Corinthians 6:19-20: "... Do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit ..., and you are not your own? For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit [your mind and attitude], which are God's."

The awesome purpose of our lives is to receive God's Spirit to transform our mind and nature and make them like His. We can see that we doubly belong to God. He not only created us, He paid for us with the sacrifice of His Son. Jesus Christ's sacrifice paid the penalty for our sins to rescue us from eternal death. Taking excellent care of our lives, for which Christ paid the dearest price, is one way to express our gratitude to God.

It's accurate to say that our Creator has entrusted the care of our bodies and minds to us. This illustrates the concept of stewardship, which means we are to care for and properly manage what belongs to God. Jesus related several parables illustrating that God holds each of us accountable to be a "faithful and wise steward" over our lives and opportunities (Luke 12:42). So, in principle, the Bible shows the smoking habit to be something contrary to our own best interests.

Throughout 1 Corinthians 6 we can see the physical and spiritual intertwined. Hence it is not surprising that the Bible emphasizes both physical and spiritual cleanliness. Many biblical laws concern cleanliness, sanitation and hygiene. Smoking clearly is a dirty habit. Most nonsmokers deplore the smell of stale tobacco smoke, the dirty ashtrays, smutty walls, stained teeth and yellowed fingers. Worse than that, think of the lining of lungs that have turned black.

Thanks to God's amazing design of the body, lungs often can, over time, return to a healthy pink after a smoker has quit lighting up. Our desire to be spiritually and physically clean in God's sight should add to our resolve not to smoke.

The Ten Commandments and smoking

The Ten Commandments show us how to love God and each other. "For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments," says 1 John 5:3. The Sixth Commandment says, "You shall not murder" (Exodus 20:13) —and that includes ourselves as well as anyone else. By smoking we are, little by little, poisoning ourselves and perhaps others who also breathe our smoke.

God also says, "You shall not covet" (verse 17). Is the craving to smoke a violation of this commandment? The answer is not simple. "Covet" primarily means to desire. While the Tenth Commandment forbids coveting anything that belongs to someone else, other references to coveting in the Bible amplify the meaning of this commandment to include any lust for what is evil or wrong (see Romans 7:7-8; James 1:14-15; 4:1-2; Ephesians 2:3).

So what about smoking? God disallows self-destructive uses of anything. If, once we understand this, we continue to crave this "forbidden fruit," we are coveting.

The problem with coveting is that it is selfish and self-centered desire, the way of getting. God's love is outgoing in concern for others, the way of giving. If you're tempted to pollute the air that your neighbors must breathe, notice this: "Love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law" (Romans 13:10).

Furthermore, in Ephesians 5:5 and Colossians 3:5, Paul equates covetousness with idolatry. This means that if something we desire is wrong to have according to God, it is not only coveting but also idolatry to continue pursuing that desire—letting it take priority over God's will.

Submitting to a wrong desire rather than submitting to God's will is a form of idolatry. Rather than God ruling over us, the thing lusted for is ruling over us. For instance, God describes gluttons as those "whose god is their belly" (Philippians 3:19). Hence, covetousness becomes idolatry. However, it is usually not the smoker's intent to place cigarettes before God in importance. Addiction is a powerful force. But one must face the reality that the obsession to smoke has become stronger than any desire to obey and please God.

Every form of addiction must be broken. Jesus said, "You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only you shall serve" (Matthew 4:10). Yet Paul explained, "Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one's slaves to whom you obey ...?" (Romans 6:16).

If you have a smoking addiction, you have allowed yourself to become enslaved to tobacco—and God says you must break free. Of course, He is loving, patient and understanding—as His people are to be. Virtually everyone realizes that quitting can be difficult and rarely will happen overnight. But you must at least genuinely try to quit—and God is there to help you. Don't let the guilt of your past failure carry you farther away from God. Rather, "draw near to God and He will draw near to you" (James 4:8). Remember that He wants you to succeed.

Conflicting desires

Think of it this way. We human beings commonly have two or more conflicting desires on almost any subject. Many smokers will say, year after year, "Oh, I want to quit this nasty habit!" Undoubtedly they do want to quit, but what they need to realize is that they also want to smoke.

If you are a smoker, your actions show which is your stronger desire. As long as your desire to smoke is stronger than your desire to quit, you will continue to smoke. When the desire to quit smoking continues to weigh more heavily and the balance scale tips, you will quit. That's why the issue of motivation is so fundamentally important. There is no shortage of information, tools and techniques that are helpful to break the tobacco habit. Usually the main lack is a strong enough motivation to bring the practice to a screeching halt!

Don't kid yourself that you already have plenty of motivation. If you did, you already would have stopped smoking. So what can you do to increase your motivation, confidence and determination to quit?

Let's start with your desire to smoke. Once you decide to quit smoking, you must find a way to stop constantly wanting to smoke, thinking about how much better you would feel if only you had a cigarette or cigar or pipe.

You must decide to keep your mind occupied with things that demand your full attention and force yourself not to give in. You must block the desire for nicotine from your thinking and quit entertaining your mind with fantasies of smoking. If you don't discipline your thoughts, you are almost certain to give in to your old desires and return to your old habits.

How you fight the battle in your mind is crucial. You may have to fight this battle for several months before you permanently win the war. But simply refuse to permit your mind to dwell on how good another smoke would be. Be determined to win.

Choose activities that require your full concentration. Put your heart into purposefully and consciously rejecting pulls on your mind that would break your concentration and turn your thinking again to relishing and savoring what you have chosen to give up.

In the end the battle will be won or lost in your mind. If you lose a skirmish, immediately get back into the fight. Don't give up. Don't lose the war. And never forget to ask God—over and over, again and again—for the strength and help you need to continue fighting until you do win.

Now let's consider how to bolster your motivation and determination to win this battle—in partnership with God.

Get the facts, and get them straight

Read, read, read about the diseases and other bad effects that result from smoking, about the benefits of a smoke-free life, about the many helpful tools and techniques you can use in your stop-smoking plan. Think deeply about what you have read, about the harm you are doing to yourself and those around you, about your wonderful future after quitting.

The following points are what gave this writer the motivation to quit smoking (see "My Experience With Smoking" on page 19).

Many have found that reading the Bible daily and then meditating on it—especially its principles of Christian living—can be highly beneficial. Think about how much your worry and guilt over smoking have pulled you away from God and how you should long to please and serve Him more effectively. Seek to build a habit of praying daily and earnestly, asking God to forgive, bless, guide and help you clean up your life in every way—and, in particular, to enable you to free yourself of a debilitating habit and addiction.

If you don't smoke, please don't start! If you do smoke, seek God's help to guide and help you in your goal to stop smoking. Make your plans, gather the tools and techniques you want to use, set a date, and commit yourself to kicking the habit for good. After quitting, if you relapse just recommit yourself with renewed determination. Keep trying. To reach this important goal, be willing to suffer a little for Christ's sake—He suffered a lot for you.

You will realize a wonderful blessing when you regain your sense of taste and smell, when your breath doesn't stink, when you're not short of breath and when you no longer see your hard-earned money go up in smoke. You'll have a clear conscience and be a much happier person. And God will be pleased. GN


  • kj.richarte

    I just want to send a quick thank you to Mr. Hooser. I originally read this article when it was first published. Consequently, I have been tobacco free for over 12 years. I am sharing this article today with someone else struggling. Never quit quitting!

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