Biblical View on Vaping
Note: This article by me was originally posted on my church's website. I've reposted it for the benefit of the readers here.
God's Word is our Guide
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).
This essay is meant to be a guide for fellow Christians. I say to non-Christians nothing more than the simple gospel: follow Jesus and truly live life. This is the far more important message. I remind my fellow believers, however, 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).
Reason and Purpose
I felt compelled to address the topic of vaping because there were some among my youth group 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 and woman may live in perfect harmony with nature and with their 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 foreshadows the full restoration of the body when God's Kingdom is fully realized. That is, at the resurrection when sin's effects has been undone, Christians will be raised to be with Christ in a new incorruptible body (1 Cor. 15:53) in the restored "new heavens and new earth" (Rev. 21).
Scripture thus testifies that God desires the physical well-being of his people, though sin may disrupt this ideal temporarily. If this is God's will, then 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. In fact, 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 challenges the Corinthians’ belief that they have the freedom to do anything with their bodies, especially in the areas of food and sex. He quotes and then responds to the Corinthians' claim in 1 Corinthians 6:12,
‘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.”
Here we see that mere freedom cannot be an excuse to do whatever you want. Practices must also be judged by their usefulness to our calling as Christians. Furthermore, 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 should glorify God in their bodies is because Christians have already surrendered ownership of their 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 the overall principle here is this: 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 vaping is “safe”. Its safety is always made relative to cigarette smoking – i.e. 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 your product to a worse product just to prove its "safety".
So we know that vaping is “safer” but is it actually “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 (where they also talk about how big tobacco corporations are benefitting from the new vaping fad).
With all of the factors we discussed in mind, how should a God-glorifying Christian treat the issue of vaping? Let's bring everything together.
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.” Paul’s response is first “not everything is beneficial” and then “I will not be mastered by anything”.
When we consider to begin any new practice or hobby, we 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 and the sin that easily entangles” (Heb 12:1). In other words, there are things that are not inherently sinful but hinders us in this race; 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”? There are no benefits to it, 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 some liquids. But this only gets us into Paul's second statement, "I will not be mastered by anything".
Having the addicting drug nicotine only gives you more reason to stay away from vaping that involves it. Addiction to anything (whether food, drink, drug, video games, etc.) is sinful because it is to be mastered by something other than God, which is a form of idolatry. As theologian John Piper comments on 1 Corinthians 6:12,
“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).
Now that we've established that vaping has no benefits (other than for cigarette smokers) and can be addicting on account of the nicotine, what do we say about the harm it introduces to the body?
The research shows that with or without nicotine, vaping introduces harmful substances into the body which God has purchased – the body that is “not your own”. As we've shown earlier, Christians have a duty, insofar as they are able, to keep their bodies in good condition for service to God that God may be glorified in that service. Therefore, it follows that Christians should abstain from this practice.
Lastly, the practice of smoking is itself an unnatural way of regularly taking in substances other than air into the body. God himself designed the body, so we should 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. If the lungs are intended to take in 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 avoid 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 undo their salvation. We are not saved by not doing (insert 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 Christian faith 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