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October-November 2014

What's Next for Home Missions?


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No Smoking: A Case Against Tobacco

By Paul V. Harrison


For decades, the Christian community has been largely silent regarding the sin of growing and using tobacco. Supporting this industry is sinful, because Scripture teaches that our bodies are the temple of God’s Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19), the apex of His creation (Genesis 1:28), and tobacco defaces and destroys that temple. In earlier days, Christians could claim ignorance, but for a long time now we have known the deadly effects of smoking. Silence has largely been our response.

Though we don’t hear it on the nightly news, over 1,300 Americans die from tobacco use every day—nearly a half million each year. Numbered among these are approximately 50,000 who die as a result of secondhand smoke. Stanford professor Robert Proctor calculates around 100 million tobacco-related deaths worldwide in the 20th century. This century, we are on track to reach a billion. [1] Globally, tobacco kills far more people than bullets.

In earlier times, such conclusions were disputed. Now, however, even the industry admits the devastating facts. One major cigarette manufacturer website states: “Philip Morris USA agrees with the overwhelming medical and scientific consensus that cigarette smoking causes lung cancer, heart disease, emphysema and other serious diseases in smokers.”

In the face of such facts, why do about 25% of American adults continue to smoke? Horace Greeley, founding editor of the New York Tribune, said it’s because cigarettes have “a fire at one end and a fool at the other.” The answer, however, is more complicated.


Who Knew What and When?

Health concerns about tobacco have existed for centuries. As early as 1799, South Carolina medical doctor Edward Brailsford referred to tobacco’s “noxious powers,” and when Ulysses S. Grant died of throat cancer in 1885, many blamed it on his love for cigars [2] Scientific evidence linking tobacco and disease, however, didn’t come until around the 20th century. Argentinian doctor Angel Roffo reported in 1936: “Tobacco causes cancer; of that there can be no doubt.”

Research indicated a smoker could inhale 4 kilograms (about 1 gallon) of tar in ten years of smoking. [3] Studies revealed light smokers were eight times more likely and heavy smokers 40 times more likely than nonsmokers to contract lung cancer. By the 1950s, evidence that smoking posed serious health risks became insurmountable, prompting the infamous Reader’s Digest article, “Cancer by the Carton.”

Tobacco industry leaders, well aware of this information, had been doing their own experiments for decades. Philip Morris research director Helmut Wakeham wrote in a 1961 internal report: “Carcinogens are found in practically every class of compound of smoke.” [4] Tobacco leaders discovered that smoking delivers a one-two punch: smoke carries multiple cancer-causing agents into the lungs, and the tar gums up the small hair-like cilia in lungs, keeping them from sweeping out foreign contaminants. Tobacco manufacturers were peddling death, and by the 1950s they knew it.


Defending Death

For years, the industry fought suspicions about health concerns by producing TV commercials like the one stating: “In a repeated national survey, doctors . . . were asked, ‘What cigarette do you smoke, Doctor?’ Once again, the brand named most was Camel. . . . More doctors smoke Camels than any other cigarette.”

The situation had changed, however. Cigarette manufacturers now knew their product, when used according to design, killed people. What they did is shocking.

Systematically, they hired their own experts—usually university professors and doctors—to present their own spin on tobacco. When scared customers wrote tobacco companies about health concerns, officials suggested they contact doctors at the Medical College of Virginia. Little did customers know that those doctors were on the tobacco payroll. [5]

In 1964, the first Surgeon General’s report on smoking turned up the heat. Shortly thereafter, George Weissman, director of marketing for Philip Morris, wrote to his boss: “We must in the near future provide some answers which will give smokers a psychological crutch and a self-rationale to continue smoking.” [6]


Filters were one such crutch. In 1950, filtered cigarettes made up less than 1% of the market. By the end of the decade, their share was over 50%, and now, nearly all cigarettes have filters. Unfortunately, filters don’t work, and the industry has known this since the 1940s. The Liggett Company’s research chief Frederick Darkis noted in 1952 that “the filters in use at present do not really take anything out of the cigarette.” [7] Filters persist today for three main reasons: the filter costs less to produce than tobacco; it keeps bits of tobacco from getting into the smoker’s mouth; and it provides the illusion of lowering health risks. [8]

Other crutches were “light” and “low tar” cigarettes. These “misleading product descriptors” make smoking sound safer, but such products are no less deadly than regular cigarettes. [9] Such tobacco industry deceptions led the Surgeon General to report in 2014 that manufacturers “deliberately misled the public about the risks of smoking cigarettes.”


Manipulating Customers

Nicotine, a stimulant, elicits an almost instantaneous response, firing up the brain’s pleasure center and resulting in an increased heart rate of about 10 to 25 beats per minute and a rise in blood pressure. [10] Tobacco’s addictive power has long been recognized. Christopher Columbus wrote of his pipe-smoking sailors: “It was not within their power to refrain from indulging in the habit,” and King James (of Bible fame) wrote: “He that taketh tobacco cannot leave it, it doth bewitch.” One wit stated: “Quitting is easy—so easy I’ve done it a thousand times.” [11]

Though nicotine is inherently addictive, the cigarette industry has taken strategic steps to increase the likelihood of addiction. First, they manipulate nicotine content in tobacco, adjusting it to the right level to keep smokers coming back. Testing the market, they once produced virtually nicotine-free cigarettes (e.g., Vanguard and Bravo), but these brands failed because people didn’t become addicted.[12]

They also tweaked the curing process, making smoke easier to inhale. Smoke from cigarettes, like that of cigars, used to be too harsh to inhale with pleasure. Smokers would draw smoke into their mouth, and the nicotine would be absorbed by the mouth’s lining. Since lungs absorb nicotine more efficiently, manufacturers altered their product to encourage inhalation, increasing both their profits and the fatalities from smoking.


Our Vulnerable Youth

Advertising has played a major role in the popularity of smoking, with the industry investing about $250 billion between 1940 and 2005. [13] In the 1950s, Philip Morris sponsored TV’s number one show, I Love Lucy. In the '60s, cigarette manufacturers sponsored 45% of all U.S. TV shows. When banned from TV advertising in 1971, they adjusted their strategy by paying Hollywood stars to smoke in the actual movies themselves. Sylvester Stallone pulled in $500,000 in the 1980s for featuring cigarettes in his movies. Rocky not only boxed, he also smoked. In Superman, Lois Lane puffed away on Marlboros. [14]

This advertising especially impacts young people. Google most celebrities, and you’ll find pictures of them smoking. Even children’s movies haven’t been immune to tobacco advertising, with smoking featured in the Bad News Bears and the Muppet Movie. Some scholars say half of all new smokers start from seeing Hollywood icons smoke on screen. [15] Ninety percent of six-year-olds were able to link cartoon-like Joe Camel to cigarettes. [16]

The industry views adolescents as their harvest field. Almost 30% of smokers tried their first cigarette by age 13, 42% by 14, 58% by 15, and 96% of smokers take up the habit before age 22. [17] Even when legally forced to discourage youth from smoking, marketers strategically depicted smoking as an adult decision, like sex and drinking.

Dollars drive the industry. Producers make a penny per cigarette, which doesn’t sound like much until you realize they produce 6 trillion a year. Tobacco stock has done well, and $10,000 invested in Philip Morris in 1958 is now worth about $50 million.


Christian Response

With these grim statistics in mind, Christians must have only one response. They should separate themselves completely from the tobacco industry. Smokers should quit. Growers should change crops. One Free Will Baptist farmer I interviewed grew and sold tobacco nearly his entire life, justifying it on the basis that “the positives always outweighed the negatives.” He was clearly counting dollars, not lives. A stinging conscience got the better of him, and he quit. [18]

A North Carolina farmer said: “Tobacco pays my bills, but it kills people. It is bad for smokers, but it is good for me and mine. . . . I know, it’s a legal product and an individual choice. . . . That’s what all of us farmers say. If you smoke, sip liquor, it’s up to you. But it still nags at me.” [19]

Ricky Flint is another farmer who repented: “I think I always had this deep nagging that it was sinful.” He exchanged tobacco for peanuts, fruits, and vegetables. [20]

The “it’s an individual choice” excuse simply doesn't hold up. Getting drunk is also an individual choice, but that doesn’t make it right. The rationalization, “If I don’t grow it, someone else will,” also fails. An abortion doctor could use the same logic. Others say, “Smoking is no worse than overeating or having too many soft drinks or potato chips.” Even if this were true—and it’s not; smoking kills far more people than bad eating habits—one evil behavior is not justified by pointing to other evil behaviors.

Preachers should preach against tobacco: growing it, smoking it, selling it. Many speak against alcohol but never focus on tobacco. The church needs more John the Baptists who put their necks on the line for the cause of truth. I’m afraid governments allow the manufacture of tobacco because of taxes in much the same way some churches say little against it because of tithes. [21]

Christian denominations should take unequivocal stands against tobacco. Free Will Baptists don’t invest denominational money in tobacco, but we should do more. In 1915, a Temperance Committee report stated: “Realizing that tobacco is a filthy and dangerous narcotic and in any and all forms is injurious to mankind, physically, mentally, morally and perhaps spiritually, we pledge ourselves to discourage its use in every form.” [22] Such a resolution at the national level would be a good step.

Since Free Will Baptist national temperance committees were dissolved in 1965, little has been written on the subject. Searching for articles on tobacco in our national denominational literature returns almost nothing. This hugely important issue deserves to be addressed forthrightly by every Christian denomination. Doing so may be hard, but it’s right.


About the Writer: Dr. Paul Harrison served as pastor of Cross Timbers FWB Church in Nashville, Tennessee, from 1991 to 2013. He also served as adjunct professor at Welch College for 17 years, teaching church history and Greek. Paul and his wife Diane have two sons and two granddaughters.



1 Robert N. Proctor, Golden Holocaust: Origins of the Cigarette Catastrophe and the Case for Abolition (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2011), 549.

2 Edward Brailsford, An Experimental Dissertation on the Chemical and Medical Properties of the Nicotiana Tabacum of Linnaeus, Commonly Known by the Name of Tobacco (Philadelphia, PA: Printed by John Ormrod, 1799), 33; and Proctor, 225.

3 Proctor, 155–56.

4 From the Legacy Tobacco Documents Library, found online at The result of recent litigation, this site houses more than 80 million pages of tobacco industry documents, many of which are marked Confidential.

5 Proctor, 187ff.

6 From the Legacy Tobacco Documents Library.

7 Proctor, 355–56.

8 Proctor, 355.

9 Peter Benson, Tobacco Capitalism: Growers, Migrant Workers, and the Changing Face of a Global Industry, Foreword by Allan M. Brandt (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2012), 45.

10 Richard Kluger, Ashes to Ashes: America’s Hundred-Year Cigarette War, the Public Health, and the Unabashed Triumph of Philip Morris (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1996), 7.

11 Proctor, 391.

12 Proctor, 348–49.

13 NCI Tobacco Control Monograph Series #19: The Role of the Media in Promoting and Reducing Tobacco Use, 3.

14 Proctor, 62–66.

15 Proctor, 66.

16 Abstract of “Brand Logo Recognition by Children Aged 3 to 6 Years: Mickey Mouse and Old Joe Camel,” Journal of the American Medical Association (December 1991).

17 From the 2014 Surgeon General Report, p. 708, and Michael Rabinoff, Ending the Tobacco Holocaust (Santa Rosa, CA: Elite Books, 2006), 83.

18 May 6, 2014, interview. I appreciate this gentleman’s opening his heart to me and granting permission to use his comments. His name is withheld at his request.

19 Benson, 140–41.

20 Benson, 141.

21 Benson, 7. I have no way of quantifying the amount given to churches and Christian causes from tobacco money, but it is surely significant. Tithing on ill-gotten gain, of course, does not justify the earnings.

22 Minutes Fifteenth Annual Session of Southwestern Convention of Free Will Baptists Held with Free Will Baptist Church Stratford, Oklahoma, November 22 to 26, 1915 (n.p., n.d.), 7. I offer thanks to Robert Picirilli who helped me find this information.



©2014 ONE Magazine, National Association of Free Will Baptists