All Vapers Go To Hell?
We’re going to do something a little different today, kids. A recent headline caught my attention, as apparently the LDS (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, more commonly referred to as Mormons) has issued something of an official ruling outlining their church’s position on vaping, among other things. This got me wondering: what do other religions have to say about vaping? Surely vaping would be at least considered halal to the Muslims? Do Christians have an opinion on it? What about the Jews?
Of course, I should have known through my various experiences with religion over my lifetime that, yes, of course every religion under the sun has an opinion on vaping. Moreover, different sects of different religions are embroiled in intense debate over the Godliness or sinfulness of vaping. If you’re curious what your own personal religion says about vaping or you’re an agnostic or atheist just wondering which kinds of hells you’re going to for vaping, read on! I’ve pored through some truly outlandish and interesting text to provide you with a quick & easy guide. Vapers: are we all going to hell?
I’m just going to say it upfront: the LDS is a deeply problematic organization, with long-held ties to child trafficking, abuse (sexual and physical), cult behavior, and a whole lot of other disturbing stuff. I’m no fan of the LDS, as a whole, but they are the organization which kicked off this whole article, so we’re going to start with them.
Naturally, the LDS has their own youth magazine (gotta reach these kids!) called “New Era”. A bold title for a magazine which tells you that vaping, among many, many other things, is a filthy sin. This magazine is approved by the First Presidency of the church, which I assume to be something like their Pope, although I truly have no idea how the power structure of this particular cult runs.
To quote the magazine directly: “Electronic vaporizers or e-cigarettes are devices people use to inhale mist, usually with various flavors… Most vaping pods contain nicotine, which is highly addictive, and all of them contain harmful chemicals. Vaping is clearly against the Word of Wisdom.”
A quick Google search of the LDS’ “Word of Wisdom” shows that this text operates essentially like a health guide for Mormons, including admonishments against imbibing “strong drink”, “hot drinks”, and meat. It’s for this reason that LDS members are known for being relatively healthy and follow an oddly restrictive and unique dietary tradition. But where do they get off claiming that e-cigarettes are included in God’s rather lengthy and specific list of banned substances?
Well, it’s not entirely clear. While the same article in this magazine goes on to spell out a lengthy abolition in the cases of sexting, drinking coffee, and smoking marijuana, they don’t give vaping the same treatment. They make some odd statements about how much nicotine is in a Juul pod, likening it to smoking several packs at once but don’t point to Scriptural evidence for the ban. Apparently, using context from other sources, the ban is likely related to the addictive nature of nicotine. Mormons aren’t big fans of anything addictive, which is probably why they live longer than anybody else (by an average of 11 years!)
All the heathen reading this need not fret, however! The article concludes with a disclaimer which says, “A perfect body is not required to achieve a divine destiny. In fact, some of the sweetest spirits are housed in frail frames.” To translate, if you vape, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to Mormon hell. On the other hand, my (un-)educated guess is that saving a vaper’s soul in the light of the Mormon God would require some intense soul-scourging, self-flagellation, and genuflection.
As one of the more popular offshoots of the LDS, Christianity has essentially taken over much of the modern world. One of the most popular religions in the world, Christianity is divided into approximately 2.3 million denominations, each with their own slightly different interpretation of the same book. Or their own interpretation of that same book but with, like, a few words changed around here and there. In any case, while people often paint Christianity with a wide brush, there are actually some meaningful differences between these denominations. Do these differences extend to vaping? Let’s find out!
Actually, let’s not. As I said, there’s about 2.8 million different Christian squads out there, so we’re just doing the Big Two: Protestants and Catholics. For the uninitiated, the Protestants don’t worship Mary and they don’t get down with the Saints. The Catholics, on the other hand: big fans of the saints and even bigger fans of Mary. As a result, the two groups have been at war forever in places like the U.K. One day, we’ll figure out who’s right, but today let’s just see how they feel about my vaping soul.
From what I can see, Catholics are big on categorizing sins. For instance, the lowest level sin (equivalent to an infraction, in legal terms) would be an “imperfection”. If your sin is a little bigger and worse, however, you get written up with a “venial sin”, or a misdemeanor legally speaking. The biggest sin is, of course, the “mortal sin” (or Catholic felony, as it’s commonly called). By most accounts, there is no Catholic statute against smoking tobacco. Priests, cardinals, and other high-ranking church officials have all openly smoked cigarettes in the past, and it’s likely that their traditional laissez-faire attitude towards cigarettes would hold true for e-cigarettes, as well.
However, this doesn’t mean it’s open season on vaping for Catholics. As I mentioned, the Catholics have a handy tiered system for ranking your sins and, following from that, your likelihood of qualifying for eternal damnation. Most Catholics, it seems, would consider an occasional smoking habit the lowest form of sin, an imperfection. However, if you were to develop a serious smoking habit (a pack a day or so), you could be crossing into the territory of venial sins. What’s interesting about this, however, is the reason Catholics tend to give when asked about the sinfulness of vaping. While Mormons are concerned with the health impact of addiction, Catholics are seemingly more concerned with how vaping harms those around you. If you or anyone you know has succumbed to vaping, you know full-well what they’re talking about. While Mormons may be concerned about health risks, Catholics understand that becoming a vape-bro is, in fact, the biggest sin of all.
It seems the Protestants (or just “Christians”, as they’re commonly referred to) have a whole heck of a lot to say about e-cigarettes. Naturally, they’re not in favor of it, but it doesn’t seem to rate extremely high on their scale of sinful judgment. In the Protestant canon, it seems, things that don’t make God’s Top Ten List (The Commandments) are sins, but not inherently enough to damn your soul forever on their own merits. This category of sin is where vaping falls.
That having been said, there’s a lot of ground to cover in terms of why they don’t like vaping. First off, there’s a line in Corinthians 6:12, which apparently lets you know that just because something is legal doesn’t mean it’s legal by God’s standards. This would ostensibly apply to things like abortion and e-cigarettes. Furthermore, Protestants share the same basic concerns regarding the “safety risks and health hazards” posed by vaping. Epidemic hysteria, it would seem, has reached Protestant shores.
Their next argument against vaping smacks very strongly of mainstream anti-vaperism. Protestants are famous for proselytizing to young people with their hip youth pastors and by virtue of simply not being the Catholic Church. As a result, they’ve taken up the mantle for anti-youth vaping, and they’ve got Bible verses to back it up. According to Christian sources, the “spirit of rebellion” is a main driving force behind youth vaping. Just as kids used to smoke in order to “stick it to the man”, teenagers are now vaping with that same energy. But this is not the Christian way, as Samuel says in 15:23 with “deceitfulness is as the sin of witchcraft”. Hey don’t look at me, that’s the verse they chose to support their position. Basically, kids who vape are witches. That’s my takeaway.
In this particular reading, in fact, vaping can rise to a higher level of sin by violating the 6th Commandment, which is the one about honoring thy mother and thy father. Some Christians argue that you’re breaching the familial trust by picking up a vape and dishonoring your family name. Not a bad argument, honestly, and it puts vaping pretty high up there in terms of risking your soul.
Their next argument (I told you, they have a lot to say on the subject) is that vaping makes you a sorcerer. Again, I’m not making this stuff up, it is directly from the mouths of Christians. Apparently some Christians have tried to defend the holiness of their mortal soul by claiming that e-cigarettes are basically in the same category as alcohol, which God is cool with. Naysayers point out, however, that God specifically condemns alcohol in cases of drunkenness and addiction and vaping, while it doesn’t get you drunk (yet), is by its very nature addictive and therefore condemned. So what’s that about sorcerers? Check this out. God notes that the “unrepented” are not allowed in His House Upstairs. Among these, he counts “sorcerers”, which scholars tell us just meant people who messed with drugs, potions, or narcotics. That opens up a pretty broad can of worms, but apparently many Christians have decided to lump e-cigarette use in there with drugs like heroin. Fair enough.
Finally, we arrive at how the Devil is explicitly the driving force behind vaping. You see, back in Eden, the Serpent famously told Eve to go on and have a bit of that apple. “It won’t hurt you,” he said – and it’s the same line being used by vape companies today. All those vape companies that point out how vaping is far less dangerous than traditional cigarettes? Satan’s Serpent in disguise once again! Again, a pretty airtight argument in my opinion.
Islam is one of the most widely practiced religions in the world. Despite America’s best efforts, Islam has survived throughout the world, while also maintaining some pretty intense standards in many areas of their lives. They have an entire holiday dedicated to fasting and they don’t eat pork, after all. One can only imagine what they might have to say about vaping.
Fortunately, you don’t have to imagine, since I’ve done the leg work for you. Or at least part of it. I don’t pretend to understand the culture and practice of Islam nearly as well as I do that of Christianity, which means two things. One, I’m going to do my best to interpret it and two, I’m not going to make quite as much fun of them as I have with the religions I’m familiar with. Making fun of Islam just feels too much like punching down, given the recent American mood.
That having been said, most scholors and fiqh (?) councils consider vaping to be impermissible. From what I gather, there are a few different levels of legality in the Muslim doctrine. There is halal, of course, which means “lawful or permitted”. This is the good stuff, as far as Muslims are concerned. There is a whole doctrine which governs how food must be prepared and which types of food can be considered halal – but it doesn’t only govern nutrition. Muslims pay attention to what is or isn’t halal when consuming cosmetics, personal care products, pharamceuticals, and, apparently, e-cigarettes.
A step down from halal, you’ve got mashbooh. This basically means “questionable or doubtful”. If something is in this category, more information may be needed to determine whether it’s good to go. Once a mashbooh product or item has been fully researched, it can be declared either halal (good and legal) or haram (bad, not permitted). Which leads us, naturally, to haram. Haram is bad, unpermitted, illegal, and filthy.
So now you get all that, right? And most Muslim scholars and religious authorities say that vaping is considered haram. But why? This brings us to another interesting point of Islam. They have a contingency called the Hadith, which is used in the case that something isn’t covered in the Koran. Ergo, vaping isn’t explicitly covered in the Big Book of Islam, but they do have a style guide passed down from Muhammed. They can just ask themselves what he would do, if they can’t find a clear answer in the book. Neat.
From this point, they’ve determined that Muslims can’t cause harm to anyone. Although they acknowledge that vaping’s secondhand impact is extremely minimal, even a minor inconvenience caused to another is enough for the behavior in question to be considered haram. Secondly, there is the question of public appearance. Other people don’t necessarily know what’s in that vape. As such, the ambiguity could be considered “an incitement to sin”, and adds to the haram-ness of the vape.
Finally, the Koran says “do not spend wastefully”. As a vaper who spends way too much on his habit, I feel this one on a personal level. According to Islam, spending money wastefully includes basically spending money on things which serve no purpose other than personal pleasure. It’s hard to think of any single expensive habit out there which is more costly and meaningless than vaping. Points to Islam for that one.
Judaism certainly has some similarities to Christianity, particularly given that the bulk of their primary religious text is the same. Naturally, the Christians diverge by following the New Testament, while Jews read only the Torah and practice a variety of proprietary practices. Part of this Jewish tradition, of course, includes the consumption of “kosher” products only. Turns out that “kosher” operates similarly to the Muslim “halal”, at least culturally. Just like with the concept of halal products, we often think primarily of foods being kosher, but the term can actually apply as broadly as the Muslim equivalent, and simply means that it is permissible to Jewish people. So, does vaping make the cut? You’d be a fool if you haven’t picked up the trend being established here yet, but let’s dive a little deeper and find out what the rabbis are saying.
The first resource I uncovered for this piece was actually a legitimate study on whether or not e-cigarettes should be considered kosher. In this study, they concluded that vaping should be prohibited under Jewish law, and particularly so for youth and pregnant women. It even went so far as to suggest that there would be Jewish precedent for barring any practicing Jews from benefiting from the sales or production of vape products. Quite a far-reaching ban!
While the authors of this study say that they arrived at this conclusion primarily by extrapolating from established Jewish doctrine on the subject of combustible vaping, the Jewish community writ large seems, just like Christianity, to have quite a wide ranging degree of divergence from what may be considered the official religious position.
In Brooklyn, there’s apparently a Jewish-owned vape store which is primarily patronized by Jewish customers. In their case, most of them explain how vaping has helped them quit smoking. While the Jewish law is against both of them, the grounds upon which it rests its case is primarily based on health risks. Surely, switching to e-cigarettes, a safer and healthier alternative, would be considered more kosher than traditional cigarettes?
It’s not so cut and dry, however. Shmuly Yanklowitz, a Modern Orthodox rabbi says that “few substances [are] forbidden from any consumption, but I think this is one.” Another rabbi, Maury Grebenau echoed the anti-vaping sentiment on Capitol Hill, calling it a “new teen threat”.
But all this disagreement has history and precedent as well. While the earlier study may have indicated that there was some sort of historical consensus on the permissibility of cigarettes, this isn’t quite the case. It turns out that rabbis have already disagreed for decades on the validity of smoking. One commandment indicates that Jews must “remove any barriers between oneself and perfect health”, while others argue that the language isn’t precise enough to indicate a blanket ban on cigarettes, which rarely pose an immediate health threat to those using them.
Yanklowitz’ position, however, is arguably the closest thing to a consensus. He recently published an opinion on vaping, which insists that Jews should not smoke because smoking is bad for you. Similarly, Jews should refrain from vaping and treat it as smoking, since we do not have concrete enough evidence that it is not. So, in the end, maybe Rabbi Liebowitz has it right, putting vapes somewhere between donuts and smoking – that is, it’s frowned upon, but permitted.
So Who’s Going to Hell With Me?
There certainly are a ton of opinions flying around the religious community concerning the validity of vaping and its attendant health benefits or risks. On the other hand, it turns out that most of us aren’t going directly to hell in a handbasket. By even the most stringent definitions of most religions, vaping is only a kind of misdemeanor. God’s not thrilled about it, but he’s not going to throw you straight into a pit of fire, either.
It does bring up some interesting questions though, as many of the religious leaders quoted above cite health risks as the major concern with vaping. If we can one day convince the majority of people in this country that e-cigarettes are, in fact, far healthier than cigarettes, perhaps we can win over some of these devout communities. Surely, those who are taught to view cigarettes and vaping as one and the same are less likely to make the switch. We’ve seen that damage being done in lower-income communities for years now. In the end, this foray into a religious outlook has underlined more than ever the need for high-quality, conclusive studies on the subject of vaping. Perhaps by the time the FDA figures out what they’re planning to do, we can lay down some real solid science which can sway the opinions of millions, opening the door for thousands of smokers to give up the combustible cigarettes for good.