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Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Smoking - Good for What Ails Ya'

Contrary to the suggestion of my co-blogger, Jeremy, I have uncovered evidence that shows the spiritual and health benefits of smoking. On no less than the authority of an OPC minister (so it must be true!). Far from being the unforgivable sin, Dr. Boer (scroll down to find his sermon) tells us that smoking tobacco is akin to the Scriptural uses of burning incense:
Cigars and cigarettes and pipe are all in the same category as incense. They're burned for the nice smell they give. Just like perfume and incense, they bring joy to the heart.

While the modern Reformed church has gone out of its way to defend the moderate uses of alcohol, I've never seen a positive theological defense of tobacco use before. Usually the issue is just sorted under the "Christian liberty" pile and forgotten. Much less have I heard of a defense of tobacco use proceeding from the pulpit in the form of a sermon.

Dr. Boer also covers some of the health benefits of smoking, and reviews the hazards of smoking. He points out that cigar and pipe smokers who do not inhale (such as myself) are at 5 times less risk of these hazards than cigarette smokers.

One of the other articles at the web site points out that Hitler was a "fanatical opponent" of tobacco. Well, that settles it then. Who are you going to believe? An OPC minister or Hitler? Do you want to be like Hitler? That's what I thought. [This is a joke, for our over-sensitive readers.]

So now I can enjoy my weekly cigar fully assured in my mind that the Lord's blessing is on me. The good under-the-table Cuban kind, of course.

Category: Gnat-Strainers


  • David,

    You will enjoy the Nicotine Theological Journal. You can subscribe by writing to John Muether at:



    By Blogger R. Scott Clark, at 12:27 PM  

  • I'm sure you've also heard this quote from Piper's bio of Machen:

    "The fellows are in my room now on the last Sunday night, smoking the cigars and eating the oranges which it has been the greatest delight I ever had to provide whenever possible. My idea of delight is a Princeton room full of fellows smoking. When I think what a wonderful aid tobacco is to friendship and Christian patience, I have sometimes regretted that I never began to smoke." J. Gresham Machen: A Biographical Memoir, p. 85.

    By Blogger mark_5, at 6:32 AM  

  • Oh, please! Do NOT join the list of so-called "enlightened" tobacco latitudinarians that plague the American church. The plain fact of the matter is that there is no safe form of tobacco. The contortions in interpreting the medical data exhibited by your sources is paralleled only by those in which the tobacco companies themselves regularly engage.

    Think I know nothing about this? Come visit my office, or better yet our cancer treatment center.

    By Blogger Ken Abbott, at 10:04 AM  

  • Ken,

    Well, it'd be good to have something beyond anecdotal evidence. I can certainly believe that smoking a cigar once a week is not the safest activity I partake in, but neither do I think it is wrecklessly unsafe. Flying in small Cessnas or even driving in L.A. freeways is probably higher-risk stuff.

    Oh, and if the medical evidence conflicts with itself, why can't we just leave the matter to Christian liberty then?

    By Blogger David Gadbois, at 1:12 PM  

  • Sadly, there is no safe form of human life. The fatality rate is staggering.

    By Blogger Jeremy Felden, at 1:49 PM  

  • David: "Anecdotal" evidence? The links between tobacco use and various forms of cancer (including oral cancer, by the way, to which pipe and cigar smokers are more prone), heart disease, and respiratory disease are among the most well-established in all of medicine. Go to the website and look up the article on how medical evidence is handled. It's a long but very worthwhile read.

    Ultimately, of course, it remains your choice what you do. But I beg of you--do not become an evangelist for this practice out of some misplaced sense of Christian liberty. Do you really want someone else's death due to a nasty oropharyngeal cancer on your conscience?

    By the way, have you discussed this "healthy" habit with your physician?

    By Blogger Ken Abbott, at 3:04 PM  

  • Ken,

    There are two unhelpfully vague things here.

    1. Saying that there is a "link" is not contested. But you are skipping some logical and evidential steps going from "link" w/ cancer to "high enough probability of direct causation of cancer so as to be ethically wreckless".

    2. And "tobacco" per se is not the issue. The issue is non-inhaled cigars. Let's not be sloppy about this. The OPC minister was not supporting a pack-a-day cigarette habit.

    Saying that cigar smokers are "more prone" to cancer than a non-smoker is very sensible. I expect that, but this does not negate the fact that it is 5 times safer than inhalation cigarette smoking. "How much more prone?" is the question that must be answered in order to make an ethical evaluation.

    From wikipedia:
    "...cigar smokers are statistically more likely to develop cancer of the mouth, tongue, or larynx than non smokers. The extent of the additional risk is disputed. The health consequences of occasional cigar smoking (less than daily) are not known, and there are few peer-reviewed and published scientific studies that address the issue of increased risk posed by cigar smoking either to its users or to bystanders."

    So I don't think there is anything irresponsible about smoking cigars if science cannot make a compelling case proving a high risk - not just higher, but high risk.

    By Blogger David Gadbois, at 5:16 PM  

  • David: I'm uncertain why an ethical issue has been raised here. The discussion centers on health behaviors and cancer risks. Smokers are no more or less immoral than nonsmokers, who undoubtedly engage in other health-risky behaviors.

    Wikipedia is a fine resource but not the sort of authority I find compelling for these matters. According to the copy of DeVita's Principles and Practice of Oncology that I have at home, the risk of oral and laryngeal cancer is the same for pipe and cigar smokers as it is for cigarette smokers. Specifically, the risk of oral cancer is increased 27-fold in male smokers of all types over that of nonsmokers.

    Again, I emphasize the importance of discussing these matters with your physician; your dentist will be concerned as well.

    By Blogger Ken Abbott, at 7:56 AM  

  • Ken,

    I'm not a doctor, but as an engineer I do have a fair grasp of numbers and statistics and use of evidence.

    1. Saying (or implying) that occassional cigar smoking is just dangerous (or almost as dangerous) as a pack-a-day cigarette habit fails the "common sense" test. If the frequency is low, and there is no inhalation, how could this be? This, alone, proves nothing, but...

    2. Such an assertion also fails the test of consistent evidence. Our OPC friend cited a figure that indicates 5X lower health risk, apparently contra your DeVita citation. This is what makes the evidence "not compelling" when there are contradictory studies like this. So now we have statistic vs. statistic, w/ common sense being the tie-breaker.

    3. Upon further inspection of your citation, it actually only deals with mouth and voice box cancer. OK, but the big bogeyman for pack-a-day cigarette habits is usually emphysema, lung cancer, and cardiovascular disease. So that's a big missing part of the equation so far.

    4. Upon further inspection of your citation, lumping "male smokers of all types" together tells us almost nothing since there is no breakdown of method or frequency. Or are you trying to say that there is no risk variance in such a broad group??!

    5. Upon a quick google search, your assertion seems to be contradicted once again, by go'ment eggheads themselves:

    "compared with someone who has never smoked, smoking only one to two cigars per day doubles the risk for oral and esophageal cancers."

    So is it double or is it 27-fold??? If we could even get a remotely consistent answer, I'd start caring. Any non-biased researcher must conclude that the risk is indeterminate.

    Oh, and who on earth smokes "only [!] one or two cigars per day"???! If I could even AFFORD one or two cigars per day, I'd start caring.

    By Blogger David Gadbois, at 9:54 AM  

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