Reason and Purpose
Every generation of Christians from the time of the apostles has had to address issues pertinent to their times. Thankfully God, by his grace, did not leave us empty handed without a guide. First, he has given us his Word as an infallible rule of faith and practice which the Christian has for his lamp and light. Second, he has given us the Holy Spirit to direct our consciences and to lead us away from sinful desires and temptations which weigh us down in this race of faith (Heb. 12:1).
I thus address this essay as a guide to fellow Christians. To non-Christians I say nothing than to accept Jesus and truly live life, and see for themselves whether the Christian faith is the truth. To Christians, however, I remind them that they are commanded and expected as followers of Christ to obey his teaching regardless of their initial beliefs. Indeed, a Christian who loves God will learn to obey his commands (John 14:23) and a test of true faith is when one obeys when one does not see the reason for obedience (Heb. 11:8).
I felt compelled to address the topic of vaping because there were some in the youth who felt that it was OK, some who felt that it wasn’t, and many who were confused and clueless. Many have asked my opinion on the topic. I, admittedly, have given less-than-direct answers primarily because I don’t have any experience with vaping and neither have I done my research into it, until now. So I thank those of you who asked and have pushed me further into Scripture, which will only help equip me to become a better youth leader. New issues such as these should never be swept under the rug and ignored. Rather, they are an opportunity for us to look into the eternal, ever-faithful and ever-relevant Word of God so that we may be guided on how to live our lives (2 Tim. 3:16-17).
I will first present what Scripture teaches and then see how it applies to this topic, and hopefully, other similar topics. For the sake of brevity, I cite numerous passages without quoting them; the reader should have a Bible in hand to fully see the flow of the arguments.
A Quick Biblical Perspective on Health
In the beginning God specially created mankind from the ground in his own image so that man may live in perfect harmony with nature and with his Creator (Gen. 1:27-31). However, the fall of humanity into sin brought, among other curses, bodily deterioration that leads to death (Rom. 5:12). Despite the inevitability of death, God has a clear interest in the health of his people.
The Book of Leviticus describes how priests are supposed to examine and isolate those who have infectious skin diseases (Lev. 11). In the New Testament we see numerous instances of Jesus and the disciples healing the sick as an announcement of the Kingdom of God (Luke 10:9). This is a foreshadowing of the restoration of bodily health when the Kingdom has fully come. Indeed, at the resurrection, when sin has been conquered, Christians will be raised to be with Christ in a new incorruptible body (1 Cor. 15:53).
Scripture thus testifies that the will of God is for the physical well-being of his people, though sin may disrupt this ideal temporarily. If it is the will of God, Christians are expected to work for his will (Heb. 13:20-21) and indeed pray “let your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6:10). Thankfully, it is generally within a person’s capacity to keep himself in good health. Thus Christians are exhorted to aim for good bodily health along with good spiritual health (1 Tim. 4:8, 3 John 1:2).
You Are Not Your Own - The Biblical Understanding of the Body
Paul’s teachings in First Corinthians chapter 6 are relevant in our discussion about how Christians should treat their bodies. Here, Paul attacks the Corinthians’ belief that they have the freedom to do anything with their bodies (“I have the right to do anything”), especially in the areas of food and sex. In verses 19-20 Paul tells the Corinthians,
“Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.”
In response to the Corinthians’ error, Paul gives an unqualified positive command, “glorify God in your body”. This principle applies not just to areas of food and sex but to everything that the body does, as Paul teaches later in his letter (1 Cor. 10:31). The reason, he says, why Christians ought to glorify God in their bodies is because Christians have already surrendered ownership of their own bodies to God when they were “bought with a price”. In other words, Christ’s death did not just purchase a believer’s soul but his body also!
Furthermore, an analogy is being made here. Christians are purchased by God similar to how slave owners purchase slaves (Romans 6:16-18). If slaves were to harm themselves, they are harming their masters’ ability to make use of them. Since Christians are slaves to God (1 Cor. 7:22) they ought to glorify God in everything, including their bodies, as taught by scripture numerous times (1 Cor. 10:31, 1 Peter 4:11, Ecc. 12:13). Indeed, Paul says that “[the body] is meant for the Lord, and the Lord for the body” (1 Cor. 6:13). So believers should be good stewards of their bodies, and ensure that their bodies are in good condition for service to God as his temple.
Vaping and Health
Now that I’m done providing a quick overview of the what the Scripture says about physical health and about how Christians should take care of the body, we can move on the issue of vaping and its relevance to the Christian life. For those of you who don’t know much about vaping here’s a definition from a pro-vaping website vapersoul.com: “Vaping can be defined as the act of inhaling water vapor through a personal vaporizer (the vaper’s tobacco-free version of the traditional cigarette).” The site also states the benefits of vaping over smoking:
“Vaping is an alternative to smoking. It’s like smoking minus several of the adverse effects of the latter: no bad smell and bad breath, no cigarette burns, no more dirty ashtrays, less likelihood of getting cancer and other smoking-affiliated illnesses – you get the drift.”
A quick search through the internet will reveal numerous articles that generally talk about these same benefits that vaping has over smoking. Indeed, the research literature does seem to suggest that vaping is much safer than smoking mainly because it does not involve a process of combustion. It is interesting, however, that a close inspection on claims made on pro-vaping sites and articles shows that no one (that I’ve encountered at least) says that it is “safe”. Its safety is always made relative to cigarette smoking – it is “safer”. It is important to note that “safer” is not the same thing “safe”. It should raise a red flag when you have to compare a product to another worse product just to prove its safety. I could just as well prove that getting hit by a smart car is “safer” than getting hit by a truck but it doesn’t mean that I should want to get hit by the next smart car I see (driven by some hipster, no doubt).
So we know that vaping is “safer” but is it “safe”? I will briefly mention two reasons here, supported by reputable, peer-reviewed scholarship, why it is not safe:
1. First, an ingredient commonly found in vaping liquid is nicotine, long known to be an addictive drug also found in regular cigarettes. According to the U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse:
“Research has shown how nicotine acts on the brain to produce a number of effects. Of primary importance to its addictive nature are findings that nicotine activates reward pathways—the brain circuitry that regulates feelings of pleasure. A key brain chemical involved in mediating the desire to consume drugs is the neurotransmitter dopamine, and research has shown that nicotine increases levels of dopamine in the reward circuits. This reaction is similar to that seen with other drugs of abuse and is thought to underlie the pleasurable sensations experienced by many smokers. For many tobacco users, long-term brain changes induced by continued nicotine exposure result in addiction.”
2. Second, aside from tobacco, there are other toxic substances present in the liquid that a vaper inhales into his body. A report published by the World Health Organization states,
“…the existing evidence shows that ENDS [electronic nicotine delivery systems] aerosol is not merely ‘water vapour’ as is often claimed in the marketing for these products. ENDS use poses serious threats to adolescents and fetuses. In addition, it increases exposure of non-smokers and bystanders to nicotine and a number of toxicants.”
The British Department of Health concurs that “Some flavourings and constituents in e-cigarettes may pose risks over the long term”. This is verified by research published in the American Journal of Physiology — Lung Cellular and Molecular Physiology by Schweitzer et al. in July of this year which showed that even nicotine-free vaping results in damage to the lungs.
These are just two of the more important factors that I want to discuss but I also provide a list of referenced research articles and medical reports by reputable health institutions at the end of this essay for more detailed examination. Also included are a number of links to less technical, popular-level articles and sites on the dangers of vaping, like the website stillblowingsmoke.org for those with a weak biology and research background.
With these two factors in mind, how should a God-glorifying Christian treat the issue of vaping?
In 1 Corinthians 6:12 Paul writes, “‘I have the right to do anything,’ you say—but not everything is beneficial. ‘I have the right to do anything’—but I will not be mastered by anything.” Note that the phrase “I have the right to do anything” are the Corinthians’ own words (not Paul’s) to justify their behavior. Paul’s response is first “not everything is beneficial” and then “I will not be mastered by anything”.
First, a Christian should ask whether vaping is truly beneficial. In fact, when one considers to begin any new practice or hobby one should first ask “How does this benefit my body, my mind, and more importantly, my soul?” Hebrews 12 talks about how believers should “throw off everything that hinders” in addition to sin. In other words, if there is something that may not even be inherently sinful but hinders, a Christian will eventually learn to lay it aside because it does not help them run this race.
So is there anything in vaping that can be considered “beneficial”? None that I can think of, except when one uses it as a means get off of cigarette smoking. Someone could say that vaping can help relieve stress because of the nicotine in it. But should an addictive, mind altering drug really be the solution? I’ll talk more about this later.
On the other hand, is there anything in vaping that is not beneficial? At the very least, it is a waste of time and a waste of money. Unless all you care about is trying to look “cool”, but that is a different matter altogether. But the clearer answer is that vaping is not just not beneficial, it is harmful.
Second, the presence of the addicting drug nicotine is good reason enough to stay away from vaping. Paul says “I will not be mastered by anything”. Addiction to anything (whether food, drink, drug, videogames, etc.) is sinful because it is to be mastered by something other than God; it is in a sense, a form of idolatry. As theologian John Piper writes in his commentary on that verse,
“That means caffeine, food, nicotine, or crack. I'm not going to be enslaved by anything. I want my mind and my body to be alert, supple, responsive, and ready to follow and obey Jesus.”
Thus to use an intrinsically addictive substance that is described by the Center for Disease Control as “as addictive as heroin, cocaine, or alcohol” is a sin because it is a clear departure from a Christian’s duty to keep his body and mind in control for the service of Christ (Rom. 12:2, Php. 4:8).
Thirdly, harmful substances introduced by vaping harms the body which God has purchased – the body that is “not your own”. Much has already been discussed earlier that needs no repeating. Essentially, Christians have a duty, insofar as they are able, to keep their bodies in good condition for service to God. Vaping is shown to be harmful to the body because it introduces toxic substances into the body, with or without the nicotine. Therefore, Christians should abstain from this practice.
Lastly, the method of smoking is itself an unnatural way of regularly taking in substances other than air into the body. God himself designed the body (Psalm 139:13-16), so we should also take note the proper functions of each part as God intended. Nowhere does Scripture mention the possibility of regularly taking in chemical substances by breathing them into the lungs. Some may object to this as anachronistic, but from a Christian point of view God made the lungs and would know its design and capacities. If he intended us to use them to purposely breathe any substance other than air, certainly such a possibility would’ve been mentioned in Scripture just as are other natural ways of taking in substances in the body. There wouldn’t be this “hidden design” that humans have just discovered relatively recently in history. From a Christian perspective, then, smoking or vaping is an abuse of the natural function of the lungs and the “good” designs of God. While things like inhalers, injections, IVs and the like are also used to bring in substances to the body other than through the stomach, they are necessary exceptions and not the rule and are themselves used for the benefit of the body and not just for the sake of pleasure.
We Christians should take care of our bodies and use them for the glory of God. This applies to everything we do with our bodies. On the issue of vaping, we find that this practice is not beneficial to the Christian. On the contrary, it shackles the mind to addiction and degrades the body – the same mind that should be free to set its sights on God and the things of God (Php. 4:8, Col. 3:2) and the same body that is “not your own”. Thus, Christians should not be engaged in this practice, and other practices like it. The only concession is when vaping is used as a temporary means to get off of more harmful habits like smoking.
Before I end, however, I do want to assure fellow Christians that their habits, by themselves, will by no means cancel their salvation and send them to hell. We are not saved by not doing [drugs, vaping, any bad habit, really] but we are saved by faith in Christ alone. But as Luther said, “We are saved by faith alone, but the faith that saves is never alone”. And a mark of true Christians is the desire to grow into maturity and seek to glorify God in everything that they do, “for those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son” (Rom. 8:29). Indeed, God will help us overcome our habits through the help of the Holy Spirit, for “he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Php. 1:6). This should bring us joy and hope that God will help us in everything that we go through.
I intended to give other reasons why Christians should abstain from harmful habits like vaping, but in view of the length of this essay already, I will write them in a separate post at a later date. First, I hope to discuss the Christian view on societal and peer pressure. Second, I hope to discuss how habits affect a Christian’s ability to be a faithful witness to their neighbors.
Christian Views on Health and Body
1. Constable, Thomas. “3. Prostitution in the Church” [notes on 1 Corinthians 6]. Dr. Constable’s Notes. Accessed on lumina.bible.org
2. Piper, John. 2008. “Is it a Sin to Smoke or Eat Junk Food?” http://www.desiringgod.org/interviews/is-it-a-sin-to-smoke-or-eat-junk-food
3. Piper, John. 2014. “Don’t Let Your Mind Go to Pot”. http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/don-t-let-your-mind-go-to-pot
4. Piper, John. 2013. “Christians and Marijuana”. http://www.desiringgod.org/interviews/christians-and-marijuana
Information on Vaping (both pro and anti-vaping)
1. California Department of Public Health. 2015. http://stillblowingsmoke.org
2. Floorwalker, Mike. 2014. “10 Facts that Everyone Gets Wrong about Vaping”. http://gizmodo.com/5-facts-that-everyone-gets-wrong-about-vaping-1659938937
3. Koebler, Jason. 2014. “The American Heart Association Says Vaping is Safer than Smoking”. http://motherboard.vice.com/read/the-american-heart-association-says-vaping-is-safer-than-smoking
4. Rimer, Sara. “Behind the Vapor”. http://www.bu.edu/research/articles/behind-the-vapor/
5. Tarantola, Andrew. 2014. “Why E-Cigarettes Might Not Be as Safe as You Think”. http://gizmodo.com/why-e-cigarettes-might-not-be-as-safe-as-you-think-1589485508
6. Vaper Soul. “What is Vaping? Your Complete Guide”. http://www.vapersoul.com/what-is-vaping/
Medical Effects of Substances used in Vaping
1. Bhatnagar, Aruni et al. 2014. “Electronic Cigarettes: A Policy Statement from the American Heart Association”. http://circ.ahajournals.org/content/early/2014/08/22/CIR.0000000000000107.full.pdf
2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 2011. “Nicotine Addiction”.
3. National Institute on Drug Abuse. 2012. “Is Nicotine Addictive?”
4. Public Health England. 2015. “Underpinning evidence for the estimate that e-cigarette use is around 95% safer than smoking: authors’ note”. https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/456704/McNeill-Hajek_report_authors_note_on_evidence_for_95_estimate.pdf
5. Schweitzer et al. “Endothelial disruptive proinflammatory effects of nicotine and e-cigarette vapor exposures”. 2015. http://ajplung.physiology.org/content/309/2/L175
6. World Health Organization. 2014. “Electronic nicotine delivery systems: Report by WHO”. http://apps.who.int/gb/fctc/PDF/cop6/FCTC_COP6_10-en.pdf?ua=1