He had been through this operation before, and the doctors had told him then the same thing they were telling him now: "You have to quit smoking."
He had tried many times before—and after every one of these surgeries—but after a week or so the cravings were too much and he went back to smoking. One lung had already been removed over the course of several operations due to lung disease and damage caused by smoking, and now he was facing surgery once again to remove more of the lung that was left. A lifetime of cigarette smoking had ravaged his lungs and his body.
This man was my great-uncle, who eventually died from complications related to smoking. His was a familiar story, as too many others have faced the same consequences of a smoking habit.
With such clear evidence of the medical dangers of smoking tobacco, we may sometimes wonder: Why did God create such a plant?
History of tobacco use
The regular use of tobacco originated among various native peoples of the Americas going back thousands of years. When European explorers discovered the New World, they took back to their homelands this use of tobacco.
As the British colonies in the Americas expanded, tobacco became a chief commodity traded for European manufactured goods. The intensive labor required to grow it, as well as its high economic value, helped to drive the increase of slavery in the Americas.
Consequences of smoking
Initially tobacco was thought to be a wonder drug, curing or alleviating many medical ills. But ever since the U.S. surgeon general in 1964 released a study highlighting the negative effects of tobacco, it's been well documented that tobacco use is accompanied by serious health concerns. Yet despite widespread awareness of the dangers, and even with warning labels on tobacco products, the use of tobacco continues unabated. Consider that:
- Worldwide, tobacco use causes more than 5 million deaths per year, and current trends show that it will cause more than 8 million deaths annually by 2030 (WHO Report on the Global Tobacco Epidemic, 2009).
- In the United States, tobacco use is responsible for about 443,000 deaths per year. An estimated 49,000 of these are the result of exposure to secondhand smoke (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Smoking-Attributable Mortality, Years of Potential Life Lost, and Productivity Losses—United States, 2000-2004).
- The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reports that smoke from burning tobacco contains more than 4,000 chemicals.
With all these negative effects, why did God create the tobacco plant? When God finished creating in Genesis 1, He stated that all He had made was "very good" (verse 31). Does this mean that it's okay to use the tobacco plant in the form of cigarettes, cigars, pipe smoking, chewing tobacco or snuff?
No, it doesn't—anymore than it's all right to eat poisonous plants, overeat, overdrink, or go to extremes with or misuse other parts of God's creation. In addition to the medical evidence showing that smoking, chewing or snorting tobacco is not good for us, biblical principles reveal that such use of tobacco is contrary to what God wants us to do.
Biblical principles against smoking
While the Bible does not speak specifically of smoking, it does cover the subject in principle. One of the main scriptures that addresses the heart of the matter is 1 Corinthians 6:19-20: "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" (New Revised Standard Version). Smoking seriously harms the body—especially over time.
An additional scriptural principle involved with the smoking question concerns our care for other people: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself" (Matthew 22:39). Science clearly documents the damaging effect of secondhand smoke, as well as the monumental cost of smoking-related health problems to society at large.
Moreover, the ravaging of our own health and possible premature death will cause suffering and hardship to our loved ones. And incapacitating ourselves prevents us from serving others as effectively as we otherwise could. So, out of loving concern for others, a Christian should choose not to smoke. These principles show us that it is indeed sin to smoke.
Compounding the issue is that, for many, it is not simply a matter of deciding to quit but, rather, a difficult struggle with a physical addiction. This is yet another reason smoking is a sin. It results in addiction—in the smoker becoming a slave to an unhealthy habit.
Notice what Paul says about this in 1 Corinthians 6:12: "You may say, 'I am allowed to do anything.' But I reply, 'Not everything is good for you.' And even though 'I am allowed to do anything,' I must not become a slave to anything" (New Living Translation).
Possible uses of the tobacco plant
So, is there any good to come from the tobacco plant? Why did God create it? The cause of so much of the destruction is from the primary alkaloid in the tobacco leaves, nicotine. In a refined state, nicotine is an oily liquid and a powerful poison used as an organic insecticide. Even in small doses it can be deadly to human beings, with just a few drops being fatal for an average adult.
Given that God clearly did not intend for the tobacco plant to be smoked, let's look at some of the emerging evidence of how it might be used:
- The Central Tobacco Research Institute, based in Guntur, India, has filed patent rights for solansole, a medicine extracted from tobacco for use in the manufacture of cancer and cardiac drugs.
- In a research report appearing in the March 2010 print issue of the FASEB Journal, scientists explain how they developed a genetically modified strain of tobacco that helps temper the damaging effects of toxic pond scum, which makes water unsafe for drinking, swimming or fishing.
- Jean Nicot (French ambassador to Portugal in the early 1500s) did a great deal of research on tobacco and is credited with isolating the compound now named nicotine (in his honor). Nicot discovered that a tobacco leaf sped up the healing of cuts when applied as a bandage.
- Farmers have used it for centuries to treat bloating and diarrhea in livestock.
- Perhaps the best thing about the tobacco plant is that it can defend other plants from insects. A solution of nicotine in water has been used as an insecticide since 1746 (faculty.washington.edu).
While Vertical Thought does not endorse these or other such uses of tobacco, it is interesting to consider that such uses have been found. Perhaps God is looking for mankind to discover the proper uses of this plant. As Proverbs 25:2 states, "It is the glory of God to conceal a matter, but the glory of kings is to search out a matter."