Tobacco Road Is a Dead-End

by Carl Johnson

A headline in yesterday’s Daily Oklahoman says, “Cigarette companies breathe sigh of relief.” The story beneath the headline reports that the Florida Supreme Court has thrown out the record $145 billion punitive damage award against U.S.tobacco companies, even though the court agrees the companies have misled smokers about the dangers of lighting up.“It’s a big sigh of relief, I’m sure, for big tobacco, especially in terms of the punitive damages.” University of Richmond law professor Carl Tobias said of the ruling. Wall Street reflected his observation as stocks jumped on the news that the court had rejected the award—an award the tobacco industry says could have ruined them. For centuries the leaves of the tobacco plant have been used for smoking and chewing. Tobacco contains nicotine, a stimulant that acts on the heart and other organs and the nervous system when tobacco is inhaled, ingested, or absorbed. While multitudes of Americans find the stimulation that comes from smoking and chewing enjoyable, concentrated amounts of nicotine are poisonous and its effects on the nervous system make it highly addictive. Before the arrival of Europeans in America, Native Americans were growing and harvesting tobacco to be smoked in pipes. Europeans exploring America learned of this practice and began producing tobacco commercially in the colony of Virginia in the early 17th century. The use of tobacco was controversial in the beginning, however. Some of the early Americans believed tobacco to be a dangerous narcotic, while others argued that it actually had medicinal qualities. In spite of the debate, smoking, chewing, and dipping tobacco became increasingly popular and even made its presence felt among our early American brethren. Alexander Campbell condemned tobacco as “an absolute poison,” and in the by-laws for students at Bethany College, he forbade the use of tobacco in any form. David Lipscomb, editor and publisher of the Gospel Advocate for many years and a powerful force in the Restoration Movement in the early 1900s, never used tobacco in any form. He did keep some in his pocket, however, because he enjoyed its smell. Daniel Sommer tells of an encounter he had with rival Isaac Errett while traveling by boat from Washington D.C. to Richmond, Virginia in 1876. Sommer and elder Benjamin Franklin were adamantly opposed to missionary societies, but Errett, who was publisher of the Christian Standard, promoted them vigorously. Sommer says that Errett was smoking a cigar when he approached him on the boat. When he questioned Errett about his smoking Errett explained, “Some men’s systems need draining, and this is one way to drain them. I had a relative that I think shortened his life by quitting the use of tobacco.” The late Joe Howard of the Odom congregation near Dora, Missouri, was engaged in a public debate years ago in Ft.Worth, Texas. During a break in the proceedings, Brother Howard walked outside the building and bit off a plug of tobacco to chew. One of the sisters who saw him was horrified by the sight and asked, “Brother Howard! You mean you chew tobacco?” Using his debater’s quick wit he held up the tobacco and replied, “Yes. The Apostle Paul says to ‘prove all things and hold fast to that which is good,’ and this is good!” During the 1970s, my wife Phyllis was stung on the back of her leg by a wasp as she stood up for the invitation song during services at a country church. After services an elderly brother handed her a plug of chewing tobacco from his mouth and said, “Put this on the sting and it will stop the pain.” Phyllis reluctantly obeyed him and amazingly, the pain subsided. With a look of vindication on his face the old man bragged, “Tobacco is the best medicine there is for wasp and beestings.” Based upon what we know about the dangers of tobacco today, such flippant excuses given by people in the distant past to justify its use sound absurd. The American Cancer Society estimates that smoking caused nearly one-third of all cancer deaths in 1995. Tobacco is responsible for more deaths in the USA than car accidents, AIDS, alcohol, illegal drugs, homicides, suicides, and fires combined. It is a killer. It is suicide on the installment plan. I sympathize with people who are addicted to tobacco and are having difficulty quitting its use, but it has no place in the life of a Christian whose body is the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 6:19), an instrument of righteousness (Rom. 6:12-13), and a living sacrifice unto God (Rom. 12:1). Just when it seemed like the Florida class-action lawsuit was going to put an end to the success of U.S. tobacco companies as we know them, the Florida Supreme Court has lifted the roadblock. Tobacco wins again. It is beyond tragic that now the only ones who will reach a dead-end while traveling down tobacco road are the consumers, not the producers.