Smoking is an extremely unfortunate addiction for those who are saddled with it. Your question strikes me as coming from someone who is not yet fully addicted, but seems to be on the way (and I am bypassing all inclinations towards any snide comments about ‘not inhaling’).
Smoking is unquestionably unhealthy (proven and accepted – reluctantly, and only after fighting against the findings, even by the tobacco industry). It is unhealthy for a smoker, and that seems to me to place it in the category of forbidden according to halachah (and common sense) as one is not to do one’s self harm.
It is unhealthy for those in the vicinity of a smoker (due to ‘second hand smoke’), so even if you don’t inhale directly, you are still subjecting yourself to the many hundreds (or even thousands) of toxins contained in the smoke and particulate matter which remains suspended in the air around you, and on your clothing, skin, and hair, and all of which you can absorb other than through direct inhalation from the cigarette. Pipe and cigar smokers, as well as cigarette smokers, all increase the risks for themselves and others. Again, it seems to me to place smoking (and perhaps even being around smokers) in the category of forbidden according to halachah (and common sense) as one is not to do one’s self harm. I would also say that if one is smoking in the vicinity of others, or where others will encounter the residue, one is compounding the offense by endangering those other persons.
Snuff users, tobacco chewers, and those who choose to hold a bit of tobacco in their mouth (all of whom don’t inhale any smoke at all), are still subject to significantly increased risks of cancer and other diseases through contact with the tobacco and the byproducts using it, chewing it, or holding it in the mouth produce. Although the types of diseases one risks differ somewhat from a typical smoker (less likelihood of lung cancer, for example, but much more of lip, throat, or tongue cancer), the increased health risk is clear and incontrovertible. Once more, it seems to me to place this behavior in the category of forbidden according to halachah (and common sense) as one is not to do one’s self harm.
Because of the clear, well understood connection between the use of tobacco and significantly increased health risks, if I were to issue a Psak Din (a halachic ruling) I would favor banning smoking and tobacco use.
Of course, because I am a member of the Reform and Reconstrucitonist Rabbinical associations (not a member of an Orthodox or Conservative rabbinical association), and my congregants and community members would not likely accept or follow an Halachic ruling (whether issued by me or another rabbi), I am not likely to engage in or undertake that exercise. I have made every effort I can to encourage those I know not to smoke – either not to start, or to strive to quit. I do not allow smoking in my presence in the areas I control, and I will not willingly go to a facility where I am subjected to a smoke ‘attack’.
For those whose communities and congregations would follow such a ruling, I am unclear as to why such a ruling has not been issued. I recall that there was some discussion in both the Conservative and Orthodox rabbinate around this issue, back a number of years, and the tone of the discussion at that time seemed to favor outlawing smoking. I don’t know what happened. I hope that one of my colleagues and fellow panelists in the Conservative and/or Orthodox streams will address this.
I am not and have never been a smoker, so I can’t say whether it is plausible that one would actually want to smoke without inhaling.But prima facie, there are three issues with smoking even occasionally:
1)the possibility of addiction, which will pose a serious health risk
2)the secondary smoke problem for those around you
3)the social legitimization of smoking
I don’t know if there is valid science as to what triggers smoking addiction, or whether one can know that one is not susceptible, and as for the second issue, one can presumably smoke in a broad empty open space, an already smokefilled room, or else in a locked and filtered room, or perhaps get valid permission from those around you.So the real issue is the third.
Here a little history is necessary.Orthodox Halakhah did not tend to ban smoking until fairly recently.The primary ground for permission, even after the initial Surgeon General’s Report, was the halakhic understanding of the Biblical phrase “Shomer petaim Hashem” (G-d is the guardian of fools) as allowing people to assume those physical risks which their society considers reasonable.This shifted as smoking became less socially acceptable, and it became plausible to see those who continued to smoke as engaged in extraordinary and irrational activity.
In other words, Halakhah does not ban eating fatty and sugary desserts, or serving them at weddings, even though they are unhealthy, and I can’t tell you whether a single cigarette is more or less unhealthy than a giant dessert.
However – if society were genuinely moving toward a significantly healthier but equally tasty diet, but with hesitations, and you encouraged the hesitation, I think you would be morally culpable.By the same token, I think that our society is moving away from smoking, and that everyone who smokes in public retards that process, and runs the risk of encouraging someone else’s addiction.For this reason, I strongly discourage even very occasional smoking, even by confirmed nonaddicts.
According to Biblical and Jewish tradition human beings were made in the Divine Image and thus are obligated to treat their lives and bodies with the highest form of respect and care.Further in Deuteronomy 4:15 we are explicitly commanded to take good care of our lives.This value was codified in Jewish law in many places, most famously by Maimonides who wrote, “It is a positive commandment to remove any stumbling block which constitutes a danger and to be on guard against it.The Sages have prohibited many things because they endanger one’s life”.Further Rabbi Mosheh Isreles, the author of the gloss on one of our greatest codes (the Shulkhan Arukh), wrote: “. . . one should avoid all things that might lead to danger”.
Applying these teachings to your question, in my view, leads to the conclusion that Jewish law prohibits even occasional smoking “without inhaling”, as well.Due to the fact that it is our obligation to remove any “stumbling block” and that we must avoid anything that “leads” to danger, even placing a cigarette in one’s mouth can be seen as forbidden.The temptation to have more than one, to inhale even when one intends not to, or even to do so accidentally, is much too strong.Further, since nicotine is clearly understood as an addictive substance any regular contact with it should be seen as imperiling.Further, there may be other real health risks, eg. cancer of the lip or mouth, etc. even when one does not inhale.Finally, even if there was no harm that could come to oneself from such a circumstance, the second hand smoke produced by the cigarette or cigar could harm others, which would certainly prohibit such an activity from both a legal and ethical perspective.
I will say that if the occasional cigarette or cigar is part of an approved program of quitting smoking, and that this demonstrates a marked decrease in smoking from what is typical for someone, this should probably be encouraged.However, the idea of having an occasional cigarette which one does not inhale must only be a stage in a program that leads to the cessation of smoking entirely for this to be considered “OK” on some level.From a halakhic or legal point of view, however, the activity of smoking is still always forbidden.
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