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Friday, July 07, 2006

Combating Smoking in Our Communities

Back in May, I made an entry on cigarette smoking that attracted a number of comments from readers, probably the most comments of any post up to that point. I planned to return to the subject quickly, and now it is already July.

However, a post at Hirhurim entitled "Smoking in Halacha" about a recent RCA Teshuvah that states that smoking is assur, reminded me that I should return to this important subject.

While the Teshuvah is a "breath of fresh air," so to speak, and addresses a subject that is important and pertinent to the Orthodox community, I do not believe that halachic psak is ultimately the way to combat this serious problem in our communities, even if the psak comes from "the Gedolim." While it does appear that psak can be quite successful (it certainly sold a lot of water filters and lit up a lot of sheitels), my guess is that psak in this area will not cause anyone to put out their cigarette butts.

While psak is certainly an important part of the picture in combating cigarette smoking, especially amongst our Yeshiva Bochurim, I believe that ultimately if we want to rid our communities of this addiction, we need to employ some of the methods that were employed as part of the "Just Say No" Campaign of Mrs. Nancy Reagan in the 1980's and make cigarette smoking socially unacceptable.

Cigarette smoking needs to be seen as disgusting, uncool, and an activity for loosers. We all know that social ostracization in the frum community is a most powerful weapon. And, if we really want to fight this disgusting addiction, we need to be done through our most powerful means.

When I was very little, I remember driving by the local high school and, in the mornings before school and in the afternoons after school, the entire block across the street from the campus was filled with cigarette smokers. By the time I was in high school, that same block barely made a Reform minyan (girls included).

What changed during those years? Many things. Social Engineering and education are the two things that I can pinpoint.

Cigarette smoking started to be portrayed in a different manner. The schools and social agencies fought the attractive advertisements with some of their own that made smokers look like ugly loosers. At this time it was an uphill battle because every grade schooler could name the different cigarette companies and identify their billboards if they had ever been on a highway in the "big city." And, every news magazine's back page had a cigarette ad.

In addition, the education in elementary school was pretty intense. Health class included presentations from local doctors who came armed with x-rays of smoker's lungs and non-smoker's lungs. And, the doctors would show x-rays of a one year cigarette smoker, a 10 year cigarette smoker, and a 20 year cigarette smoker. Probably the most memorable moment was when my 5th grade teacher pulled a janitor into the classroom to speak. Well, not quite speak. You see, this janitor had cancer in his voice box from smoking and had it surgically removed. He went around to every table and what we saw what still turns my stomach today when I think about it. There is nothing pretty about a man missing a good part of his neck!

My husband went to (modern) Yeshiva schools the entire way through. Last night I asked him what his Health education was like in regards to cigarette smoking. He couldn't recall much, except for a brief talk during high school. Quite frankly, in my opinion, addressing the issues by high school is far too late!

G-d willing, this teshuvah will get communities putting their heads together and thinking about how to combat this terrible addiction. It know that it won't be an easy battle since so many role models smoke and since for many boys, smoking is viewed as sort of a right of passage (Dare I tell you about a family I know who begs their children not to lit up a cigarette at Bar Mitzvah parties. Apparently, in their circle, cigarettes are given to the boys as part of the celebration by the parents-term used lightly).

I don't have too many ideas, but here are a handful:
1. Parents need to make it absolutely clear that not only are their children not to smoke cigarettes, but their children are not to hang out with other children that do this.
2. Parents should be careful not to give too much cash to students, especially if cigarette smoking (or gambling) is an issue in their social circle.
3. The first question in shidduch research should be, "Is he a cigarette smoker?" If the answer is "yes" or even "sometimes, but he is not addicted" (a stupid answer at that) and the conversation ends enough times, the message may sink in that cigarette smoking is not acceptable and that it is a character flaw that is so bad that there is nothing further to discuss. As we all know the fear of not finding a shidduch is overwhelming.
4. Policies need to be put into place for staff members who smoke cigarettes that they are not to do so in front of students, either on or off campus. The same goes for Beit Midrash boys.
5. Education programs need to be instituted at the elementary school level and x-rays and other resources that should "gross out" students need to be used.
6. Lastly, I hear many people make excuses for young cigarette smokers saying that they have no other "outlets" given their schedule and the number of activities that are pas nisht. If this is the case, than I would suggest providing some activities because these cigarette smokers are the future fathers of klal yisrael, and I'm sure we would like healthy fathers and healthy grandchildren.

Hope to hear some of your ideas. And, if your community has instituted programs, are those programs showing signs of success?

In many ways, we are lucky that today the cigarette industry has been limited in their ability to advertise. Those highway billboards and slick magazine ads are basically a thing of the past and it is easier to show cigarette smokers with yellow teeth, stringy hair, porous skin, and more, when you don't have airbrushed models on billboards overlooking the highways, making this terrible addiction look so attractive.

Chazak U'Varuch to the Rabbonim who have issued this psak. May your words reach the ears of many and may you be rewarded for speaking out on an issue that is all to important to ignore.

27 comments:

Chaim said...

It's funny that you just posted this. I literally just finished writing a post on the same exact topic. I'm going to edit it and hopefully post it Sunday or Monday. Nice post, really really good. Yasher Koach.

Tzvee said...

I agree with everything you wrote. I still hope that more and more religious leaders will conclude that smoking cigarettes is a sin.

Please note that I use the word "cigarettes". I'm convinced that the cigarette industry has done all it can to keep us from using that word. They call themselves the tobacco industry. They talk about smoking (when they have to). I say - use the word!

Also I don't recommend using the term "quitting". That sounds like something a loser would do. I just say stopping. That's more correct and less of a negative.

There is so much that the cigarette pushers have done to skew the game in their favor. We don't have to follow their lead.

Just remember - cigarettes = sin.

Tzvee said...

By the way - sorry about the pipe in my picture. I used to smoke a pipe but I stopped in 1980. Glad that I did stop.

cool yiddishe mama said...

It sends a very negative message to our children to see machers of our communities outside shul on weekday yamim tovim, smoking. Unfortunately, some rabbeim are afraid of upsetting some of their biggest benefactors; so they just stay silent.

Steve Brizel said...

Mishpacha ran an article about advertising geared to the charedi communities about the dangers of smoking that included a lit cigarette over a shtremel or black hat. IMO, what we need are shock tactics-how about comparing a chain smoker's and non smoker's x-rays-the difference is night and day.FWIW, RHS long ago said that smoking was an act of suicidal behavior.

SephardiLady said...

Tzvee--Point taken, and a good point at that. I've edited my language to be more exacting.

SephardiLady said...

Steve, I agree with you that we need education programs with shock tactics (my number 5).

Maybe some of the smokers in our own communities who regret their addiction and want to help educate can volunteer their own x-rays.

That would be powerful!

I haven't seen the mishpacha ads, but if you want to email me a scan, I'd be happy to take a look. To me a cigarette over a black hat does nothing.

Eli7-I know the Reform movement bans cigarette smoking at all of their events. Too bad we don't do the same. Even a broken clock is correct twice a day.

Steve Brizel said...

I don't know if the Mishpacha article is web friendly or not but it is a long overdue tactic, albeit not the strongest one available. Remember, in the Charedi world, change is gradual, if at all,

Here is a better suggestion, IMO, it is absolutely important that anyone in the shidduch parsha insist that the future son in law be a non-smoker. It is certainly on our list of midos tovos.

SephardiLady said...

Steve-I agree. I made the suggestion in my #3. If cigarette smokers were automatically turned down for shidduchim by basically everyone, behavior would change without a doubt.

I am usually against social engineering for shidduchim, but when it comes to cigarettes and gambling, I make an expection.

Josh Weinberg said...

While psak is certainly an important part of the picture in combating cigarette smoking, especially amongst our Yeshiva Bochurim, I believe that ultimately if we want to rid our communities of this addiction, we need to ... make cigarette smoking socially unacceptable.

Yes, another example of what people really value. No one follows halcha unless required to by our society.

Anonymous said...

IIRC, Mishpacha magazine has taken a stand that they will refuse cigarette advertisements. Maybe in the USA those ads are already limited by law, but perhaps not/less so in Eretz Hakodesh, hence the greater the value of such a step.

Pragmatician said...

I think the solution you suggested has the potential to be a successful one, if it become internationally the thing to do to say no to a smoking boy, then I believe many will make a greater effort to stop this filthy and not to forget expensive habit.
Ever saw a poor fellow cry ht he can't fee his kids while lighting his 5th of the day?

Ariella said...

My kids already know that I will not tolerate smoking on their part or of the part of the spouses-to-be. Of course the youngest is yet 5, but it's never too early to lay down the law.

Anonymous said...

" or even "sometimes, but he is not addicted" (a stupid answer at that) "

Why is it a stupid answer? I know many people who had an occasional cigarette and quit with no problem. That's not an encouragement to smoke since many people do become heavy smokers, but that doesn't mean there aren't such people. If you want to nix a shidduch because someone is a light smoker go right ahead. I wouldn't do that because the stats on light smoking don't show much danger. You would be far, far, far better off nixing shidduchim with people who have a propensity to gain weight or eat an unhealthy diet than with light smokers. But I suppose a guy who says he doesn't want to date an overweight young woman who eats an unhealthy diet is in the dog house, but a girl who turns down a shidduch with a light smoker is doing the right thing.

Anonymous said...

"and it is easier to show cigarette smokers with yellow teeth, stringy hair, porous skin, and more,"

are you aware that many models are heavy smokers

Anonymous said...

"and it is easier to show cigarette smokers with yellow teeth, stringy hair, porous skin, and more"

Cigarette smoking causes yellowing of teeth (this can be mitigated). AFAIK it is alleged to cause dry skin that is more prone to wrinkle, not porous skin, and also AFAIK this is very individual. I think the stringy hair is something you just threw in for effect.

If you oversell your case, no teenager will believe you.

SephardiLady said...

"are you aware that many models are heavy smokers"

I am aware (they use nicotine to control their weight) and I find the super thin, starved look of these models to be quite ugly, thank you very much. Sure these models are tall and really, really thin. But, they are missing a glow.

I know many people who had an occasional cigarette and quit with no problem. That's not an encouragement to smoke since many people do become heavy smokers, but that doesn't mean there aren't such people. If you want to nix a shidduch because someone is a light smoker go right ahead. I wouldn't do that because the stats on light smoking don't show much danger.

Like all addicitons, some become addicted faster and addicted slower. It seems that some people have a pre-disposition to certain addictions and for some, a few cigarettes is the road to addiction, for others that road might be a lot longer.

I see no reason to take the risk that a person isn't addicted or headed towards addiction, and maintain my stand that these shidduchim can and should be rightfully rejected. If the person wants to change their circumstances, they should stop smoking.

As for your comments You would be far, far, far better off nixing shidduchim with people who have a propensity to gain weight or eat an unhealthy diet than with light smokers. . . . . , while I find it ridiculous that healthy girls are turned down because they are not the proper size 2, I think it is fair to concern yourself with the health of someone who really has real eating issues and the health issues that go along with it.

Anonymous said...

"am aware (they use nicotine to control their weight) and I find the super thin, starved look of these models to be quite ugly, thank you very much. Sure these models are tall and really, really thin. But, they are missing a glow."

haha OK tell that to teenagers and see how it works. Esp. male ones. They are missing a glow. Along with the stringy hair. You are literally making this up as you go.

"Like all addicitons, some become addicted faster and addicted slower. It seems that some people have a pre-disposition to certain addictions and for some, a few cigarettes is the road to addiction, for others that road might be a lot longer."

Some don't become addicted *at all*. Many in fact. People routinely quit smoking with no help at all; they are not all addicted, for goodness sake. You've been making up stuff on the fly. Lying and exaggerating to people in a "Good cause" is still lying, and it's counterproductive because the target audience recognizes the exaggerations and lies for what they are, and ignores all messages from that source.

"As for your comments You would be far, far, far better off nixing shidduchim with people who have a propensity to gain weight or eat an unhealthy diet than with light smokers. . . . . , while I find it ridiculous that healthy girls are turned down because they are not the proper size 2, I think it is fair to concern yourself with the health of someone who really has real eating issues and the health issues that go along with it."

"Real eating issues" aren't necessary. Being even somewhat overweight is more dangerous -- FAR more dangerous -- than smoking on an occasional basis. Eating the typical heimsiche high fat diet is more dangerous than occasional smoking too! It is much worse to eat kugel and blintzes than to smoke now and then. You are ignoring far greater health risks while demonizing any degree of smoking.

You can turn down shidduchim with whomever you want. But don't kid yourself that you are really worried about "health" if you turn down a shidduch with an occasional smoker, while accepting ones with people who are something short of "real eating issues" and is just the usual slightly overweight and/or eats the usual poor diet. If you turn down shidduchim with all of those people, you won't have that many people left to date -- and you'll be in the same position you chastise others for, of looking "only" for guys who are learning, only in your case, it will be "only" kids who meet your health standards.

Slow suicide is being ten pounds and then twenty pounds overweight for years and not exercising, not having a few cigarettes now and then. Deal with the FACTS.

Rea said...

Can all you anti-smokers chill out???
If people want to kill themselves you have no right to stop them. Smokers aren't dumb. They know the dangers. They're just trading off their pleasure of smoking for some years of their life. It's their decision.

Steve Brizel said...

Anonymous-wake up and smell the coffee-everyone knows that teenage tolerance of smoking and thinking that it is "cool" to smoke has a lot to do in creating the chain pack addicted smoker. WADR, it is suicidal to smoke and our communities have as much an obligation to discourage smoking as we do re other transgressions.

Rea-Look at it this way. Every week, we read in the Yated, Hamodia, Mishpacha and the Jewish Press about the need to support a family in which a young husband left a family and died of yeneh machala. I would not be surprised if more than just a few of these were caused by cigarette smoking and its demonstrated awful aftereffects on the respiratory system. It is a great mitzvah to help suppoort a widow and her childen, BUT IMo, it is a greater mitzvah to prevent the anti social conduct that leads to death-cigarette smoking. That is within Lo Saamod Al Dam Reacha.

Anonymous said...

"Anonymous-wake up and smell the coffee-everyone knows that teenage tolerance of smoking and thinking that it is "cool" to smoke has a lot to do in creating the chain pack addicted smoker. "

I didn't say anything about it being kewl to smoke. You might try rereading.

"Rea-Look at it this way. Every week, we read in the Yated, Hamodia, Mishpacha and the Jewish Press about the need to support a family in which a young husband left a family and died of yeneh machala. I would not be surprised if more than just a few of these were caused by cigarette smoking and its demonstrated awful aftereffects on the respiratory system. It is a great mitzvah to help suppoort a widow and her childen, BUT IMo, it is a greater mitzvah to prevent the anti social conduct that leads to death-cigarette smoking. That is within Lo Saamod Al Dam Reacha"

Brizel there are MANY more widows of heart attack victims, wives of ill and unemployed men with diabetes etc than widows of chain smokers. All I said is that the health risks for the averege LIGHT smoker are considerably lower than for the average person who eats the typical heimische diet and doesn't exercise (or similar). And that when it comes to nixing shidduchim for health reasons, it makes far more sense to look at the bochur's diet than whether he is an occasional smoker with no intention to smoke around kids. Puritans who say otherwise aren't paying attention to the medical facts.

SephardiLady said...

To Anon:

1. Pick a name if you plan to visit.

2. Maybe I should have a friend of ours, who decided to socially have some smokes, write a post about how he is now addicted and how over the time he got addicted, his smoking has got worse and worse.

3. If you want to rant against the lack of exercise and unhealthy diets in many frum households, take it up on a blog. You won't see me having a fit there. Kugel doesn't make it on our menu and we serve fresh fruit for dessert.

4. It might be a good time to remind everyone that they should get life insurance or re-evaluate their policy.

5. Regarding life insurance: Smokers and even former smokers will have to pay more. Kugel eaters, take comfort, your premiums will be determined by your blood tests.

me said...

"2. Maybe I should have a friend of ours, who decided to socially have some smokes, write a post about how he is now addicted and how over the time he got addicted, his smoking has got worse and worse."

I didn't say that people don't get addicted. I said that some people who smoke casually and lightly for years are *not* addicted and aren't going to become addicted. Please respond to what I write, not what you wish to free associate to what I wrote.


"3. If you want to rant against the lack of exercise and unhealthy diets in many frum households, take it up on a blog. You won't see me having a fit there. Kugel doesn't make it on our menu and we serve fresh fruit for dessert."

Again, this is irrelevant. I wasn't questioning what you eat, I was questioning why you don't list this as required information for shidduchim and only insist that the guy not issue the "Stupid" response that he occasionally smokes but is in no way addicted.

"5. Regarding life insurance: Smokers and even former smokers will have to pay more. Kugel eaters, take comfort, your premiums will be determined by your blood tests."

"Smokers" are not defined for life insurance purposes as anyone who ever smokes. People who pay more are heavy smokers, and it goes according to how much they smoke/day. A point you studiously ignore.

You also haven't been able to defend other things you've tossed out as facts.

SephardiLady said...

Here is a sight about Drug Abuse that includes information on Nicotine Addiction: http://teens.drugabuse.gov/. This is a good resource for parents and students (especially since this subject isn't being addressed in many schools).

Besides all of the common risks (heart disease, lung cancer, emphasima, etc), it seems that researchers are now finding links between depression and nicotine. (http://teens.drugabuse.gov/facts/facts_nicotine2.asp).

On another sight, I saw a fact that teens get addicted from their first cigarette quicker than adults (4 weeks vs. up to 2 years). But, I could not find the research link on the subject. Being that most smokers begin as teens and the social pressure is high to smoke, I would imagine that social smoking is more dangerous as a teen.

Anonymous said...

"Besides all of the common risks (heart disease, lung cancer, emphasima, etc), it seems that researchers are now finding links between depression and nicotine. (http://teens.drugabuse.gov/facts/facts_nicotine2.asp)."'

You are misunderstanding this. I was going to point this out above, but it seemed too complex for this thread, esp with all the other misinformation floating about.

The physical addiction to nicotine is real, but relatively easily managed. Headaches, cravings etc pass relatively quickly. That is to say, one can be totally cured of *physical* addiction in days, and indeed, that is why so many people have quit on their own. Psychological addiction is a different story. The problem is that most researchers today believe that hard core smokers -- that is, smokers who have tried but are unable to quit even with the health info available -- are likely self-medicating for unrecognized depression, or similar. some say the long term smokers who can't quit and are men are likely ("theoretical") alcoholics and the women depressives. Smoking cessation programs that treat quitting smokers with antidepressants are operating on the theory that smokers are self-medicating for depression.

This is one reason that your attitude to smokers could use a bit of tempering. It's also why you are incorrect to make a connection between people who've smoked for a long time and remain only smoking now and then and hard-core smokers. These are not similar groups for the purposes of addiction and quitting.

Beofre you yell at me again, I am not suggesting that anyone take up smoking because no one knows which group they'll fall into. Also, even physically, it's not nothing to quit smoking. But if it's not quite like quitting caffeine, it's not *that* much worse. Those who don't or won't quit are just a different group.

"On another sight, I saw a fact that teens get addicted from their first cigarette quicker than adults (4 weeks vs. up to 2 years). But, I could not find the research link on the subject. Being that most smokers begin as teens and the social pressure is high to smoke, I would imagine that social smoking is more dangerous as a teen."

It is physically more dangerous to smoke as a teen, and can have effects on development.

Steve Brizel said...

Anonymous-Take a look at some of the evidence on "light" versus "chain smoking." The tobacco industry worked overtime to convert a recreational light smoker into a chain smoker.

Halfnutcase said...

this is old, but perhaps I might point out some facts.

Firstly, regarding the appropriate weight for a girl, for your average hight and build girl, about 125 is "appropraite". according to my mother, this is about 58. Now, being 120 pounds is already very unhealthy, more so that light smoking. However, being 30 or 40 pounds overweight is rather ok from a health perspective. THere are minor costs, but not nearly so bad as as much as 10 pounds underweight or "light smoking". So please, stop with your self justificating stupidity about it therefore being ok to obsess about thin girls. What most boys would reject as a "fat girl" is actualy rather heathly and appropriate. Certainly there would be alot of health reason for rejecting someone who was already a size four as being dangerously unhealthy and having poor health habits.

But upwards of larger sizes, even like 12? No health problems at all! (for an average girl. If the girl is like really short maybe that's different).

Now with regards to smoking, any amount of regular cigeratte smoking can and will get you addicted with repetition. Once you are addicted just see how well you can refrain from enjoying a cigerette once a week, or once a day instead of once a month. By the time your smoking even once cigerette a day you are certainly addicted and in serious trouble if you don't quit (although at that point from what a doctor I know says there is still considerable room for grace and saving your self).

However, the issue is that teens are rather stupid. (I didn't completely understand how stupid my fellow teens where as a rule untill I was much older. I never experianced this kind of stupidity, hence why I don't smoke and haven't done alot of other things dispite availability). Teens suffer from something called the "invicibility fable". It means that they believe that nothing bad will ever happen to them. They also percieve themselves as basicaly heros and that are the exceptions to every rule, whether or not they have evidence. If there is anything but overwhelming evidence then they will reason that "it will not happen to me", and this is why you so often hear teens asser that "I never thought it would happen to me" verbatum when they do something stupid and they ruin their lives because of it. This is the reason why teens need to be protected in certain ways untill they grow out of this phase. If they see it as socialy acceptable they are incapable of making the decisions mentioned above they they will trade part of their life for smoking because they firmly believe that they are going to both be healthy and smoke. It is only later that they realize the gravity of their error.

For this reason we have to do everything we can to discourage teens from smoking. Personaly I say that banning kids who smoke from school or bais medrish is an excelent idea. However, you have to grandfather the kids who already smoke it. Announce i publicaly in school, and the first thirteenyearold caught smoking is kicked out and made a public example of. THen the next one tries it and he gets kicked out. Pretty soon the kids are going to realize that this is exactly what is going to happen to them and they are going to stop taking it up, really quickly.