Fire, Brimstone and Tobacco?!

I’ve heard, for a number of years, that smoking is considered a mortal sin or at least a venial sin. Regardless, I want to know the unbiased truth about this.

Chain addicted smoking could be considered a mortal sin; however, since they’re addicted doesn’t that lessen their culpability?

Personally, I enjoy smoking my corncob pipe. I have a pipe box, lighter, and two jars for my tobacco; however, I only smoke at most twice a week. I take great pride in my corncob pipe and I enjoy every minute of packing and cleaning it. When I smoke, I like to go outside where the air is fresh and simply enjoy nature.

I jog two miles every other day and exercise daily but is my smoking still a sin? I wouldn’t continue if I noticed negative health effects.

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From the CCC

2290 The virtue of temperance disposes us to avoid every kind of excess: the abuse of food, alcohol, tobacco, or medicine. Those incur grave guilt who, by drunkenness or a love of speed, endanger their own and others’ safety on the road, at sea, or in the air.

In other words, smoking itself is not sinful, but the abuse of tobacco is. Honestly, I don’t see how smoking occasionally is sinful unless you knew that for you it would tempt you strongly to smoke more often and so abuse tobacco.

I can only offer my opinion. I do not believe smoking is a sin, unless you are abusing tobacco to the point where you are doing serious injury to your body or exposing little children to secondhand smoke and causing injury to them. To my understanding, smoking for the pleasure of it, like how you smoke your pipe, is the same as enjoying a glass of wine every now and then. Alcohol use is not a sin, alcohol abuse is. Same with tobacco. I could be wrong however.

Smoking in general is not a sin. The CCC does talk about, as quoted above, the “abuse” of tobacco. Honestly I am not sure where the line is between acceptable use and abuse. IMO, your use does not sound like anything that rises to the level of abuse and therefore sin, but that’s just me. As always, talk to your priest if you have doubts.

To my knowledge the Church has never taught that smoking is in itself a sin, as opposed to smoking to the point that it is clearly an abuse of the substance.

On the other hand there is a strain of moral theology that says that all our actions ought to be ordered towards rational ends and that pure pleasure-seeking is always a sin. The typical example is that of food. The purpose of food is to nourish us. That’s not to say that we can’t or shouldn’t enjoy eating or cook dishes with the goal of having them taste good, but to eat something sheerly for the sake of pleasure, like an Etruscan at a vomit-feast or simply like someone eating candy for no other purpose than the taste, would be a sin of gluttony even if the quantity of food were not excessive. Some theologians even taught that condiments were sinful for this reason, though I personally think they should be considered part of the dish as a whole which in turn may be being eaten for rational purposes.

It’s similar for alcohol. The rational purpose of drink is hydration or (I would argue) to wash a meal down with. There is nothing wrong with choosing a beer or a glass of wine for this latter function (in the old days beer in particular was sometimes weak enough to use for hydration, but this is hard to imagine today) and even with enjoying the slight buzz that results from it. Also considerable quantities of alcohol could be and sometimes were used as an anesthetic in primitive conditions, if a limb had to be amputated or something, but we have much better alternatives to this today. To drink alcohol, whether in moderation or not, purely for the purpose of enjoying its neurological effects would be an abuse of that alcohol, a gluttonous pleasure-seeking divorced from the legitimate context in which such drink can be enjoyed.

This is why drugs such as marijuana are probably always immoral when used recreationally. There is nothing magical about ethanol that makes it moral when all other mind-altering drugs are not. It’s that ethanol is usually consumed as a part of a drink that in turn may be consumed for legitimate reasons. Marijuana is usually smoked, and there is no rational purpose behind such smoking. It is pure gluttony.

But that brings us to tobacco smoking. It produces very little in the way of a “high” even for inexperienced smokers. The pleasure of it is more subtle. But it is still pleasure-seeking through an activity that has no purpose at all besides that seeking of pleasure. It could therefore be argued that any smoking of tobacco, no matter how moderate and even if there were no health risks, is an abuse of tobacco and a sin of gluttony.

I am sorry, but I very much disagree with Aelred Minor.

Enjoying something just for the sake of it is not sinful. God gave us wine. The inebriating effects of alcohol are enjoyable, that is to say, brings us joy. We are not pleasure-shunning people, we Catholics. A glass of wine can help us celebrate or it can help us grieve. It is the overuse of it that is sinful. We are free to enjoy a little buzz without any sin, but drinking to the point of drunkenness is sinful. Also, getting drunk accidentally, like when we overconsume a spiked punch without realizing how strong it is, is not sinful. The next time, we know better what our limit is. But we cannot sin accidentally.
Smoking tobacco or using other things that have effects on our bodies, like melatonin or caffeine, etc. is not sinful. If it were sinful to consume something that affected us mentally, then how would using a medication like an antidepressant be morally acceptable? And these things, tobacco, caffeine, alcohol, etc. have all traditionally been used medicinally, as well as enjoyed for the pleasure of the smell or taste.
We are not supposed to be puritanical. We are allowed to enjoy the gifts that God has given us, and our faith is clear on the fact that wine is a gift from God.

Just as a quick and easy reference to show that I am not making this up, here is the Catholic Encyclopedia’s little article on gluttony:

"Gluttony (From Lat. gluttire, to swallow, to gulp down), the excessive indulgence in food and drink. The moral deformity discernible in this vice lies in its defiance of the order postulated by reason, which prescribes necessity as the measure of indulgence in eating and drinking. This deordination, according to the teaching of the Angelic Doctor, may happen in five ways which are set forth in the scholastic verse: “Prae-propere, laute, nimis, ardenter, studiose”, or, according to the apt rendering of Father Joseph Rickaby: too soon, too expensively, too much, too eagerly, too daintily. Clearly one who uses food or drink in such a way as to injure his health or impair the mental equipment needed for the discharge of his duties, is guilty of the sin of gluttony. It is incontrovertible that to eat or drink for the mere pleasure of the experience, and for that exclusively, is likewise to commit the sin of gluttony. Such a temper of soul is equivalently the direct and positive shutting out of that reference to our last end which must be found, at least implicitly, in all our actions. At the same time it must be noted that there is no obligation to formally and explicitly have before one’s mind a motive which will immediately relate our actions to God. It is enough that such an intention should be implied in the apprehension of the thing as lawful with a consequent virtual submission to Almighty God. Gluttony is in general a venial sin in so far forth as it is an undue indulgence in a thing which is in itself neither good nor bad. Of course it is obvious that a different estimate would have to be given of one so wedded to the pleasures of the table as to absolutely and without qualification live merely to eat and drink, so minded as to be of the number of those, described by the Apostle St. Paul, “whose god is their belly” (Phil., iii, 19). Such a one would be guilty of mortal sin. Likewise a person who, by excesses in eating and drinking, would have greatly impaired his health, or unfitted himself for duties for the performance of which he has a grave obligation, would be justly chargeable with mortal sin. St. John of the Cross, in his work “The Obscure Night of the Soul” (I, vi), dissects what he calls spiritual gluttony. He explains that it is the disposition of those who, in prayer and other acts of religion, are always in search of sensible sweetness; they are those who “will feel and taste God, as if he were palpable and accessible to them not only in Communion but in all their other acts of devotion”. This he declares is a very great imperfection and productive of great evils.


(emphasis mine)

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We as Catholics can enjoy food and drink, just perhaps not purely for the sake of enjoyment.

In any case accidentally consuming more than we intended or using drugs for legitimate medical purposes is not sinful. Of course they are not. The question here is consuming something for no other purpose than the pleasure the consumption of it provides.

Also notice that I’ve been using cautious language. I don’t pretend to have this issue thoroughly figured out myself.

I would note that there they are not saying that it is wrong to eat for pleasure rather than for nourishment or to eat for pleasure even when no nourishment is expected or desired, but that doing so exclusively such that one does not even implicitly direct this pleasure ultimately towards our final goal of heaven is problematic. Which is a little different than saying you can’t eat something just because its pleasurable when people speak this way they do not necessarily mean eating in such a way that one excludes, even implicitly, the orientation towards our final goal.

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To argue that eating a piece of candy is gluttony is simply silly. We are not required to believe the musings of every catholic theologian in history. There is nothing in the CCC that contains this very strict definition of gluttony. Im sure priests and cardinals the world over eat candy.

This would seem to say that a rich meal of oysters, steak, etc., eaten for both the pleasure of it as well as for nourishment, would be morally acceptable in that the goal of needed nourishment is achieved – but that a simple stick of gum, chewed but not swallowed and not providing nourishment, would conceivably incur the sin of gluttony if indulged in for the simple pleasure of it. Way too much theological navel-gazing for me. A greater good would seem to be addressing the problem of hunger rather than parsing gluttony.

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That rich meal of oysters and steak may well fall afoul of Aquinas’s principle of eating too expensively, and depending on the person possibly also of eating too daintily. One gets the impression that Aquinas, like other moral theologians before him, would likely have condemned the drunkard and the wine-taster alike as gluttons.

And yes, probably the gum-chewer and the smoker as well. One reaction to consideration of the more minor venial sins is to dismiss them and say we have to focus on bigger sins, but this is probably not the best approach.

On the other hand, we might recognize that this line of moral thinking is rooted in the spirituality of monastic and mendicant religious, and we might attempt to explain it or explain it away as a spirituality of renunciation that does not apply to most people.

We don’t want to give the impression that we are puritanical. There is no place for Puritanism in Catholicism. Besides, I don’t think the OP’s question was philosophical but practical. I feel like you’re going into a lot of unnecessary detail. The answer is simply, no, it is not inherently evil to smoke tobacco. One should be conscious of possible adverse health effects if one is to engage in this activity.


I think this part is very true. For people called to live in the world, oftentimes in the vocation of marriage, we are not called to a life of renunciation. We are to use things, and we are allowed to enjoy the use of things. But the use of things is supposed to be always oriented toward fulfilling our vocation. I think that there is a legitimate use of tobacco. I have occasionally (not since I began bearing children, but at times in my adulthood prior to children) enjoyed a social cigarette or cigar. It was the same as enjoying a nice glass of chilled white wine or enjoying starting a bonfire on a summer night. None of that is strictly necessary (who needs a bonfire on a warm night, especially since we have electric lighting readily available?), but it is enjoyable, something shared amongst friends. It is a way to demonstrate the specialness of the gathering.
Same thing with a ritual of packing a beautiful cob-pipe with sweet-smelling tobacco and lighting it and puffing it. Little rituals, the use of lovely things, these aspects of life in this world encourage us to slow down and savor life a bit. It encourages restfulness at times. At other times, rituals energize us, like that morning cuppa joe.
There is nothing sinful about using things such as caffeine, tobacco, alcohol, etc. if we are using them with moderation and in a law-abiding fashion, with awareness of how abuse of the substance can be harmful to ourselves and others.

I think it is a sin…period. Someone who smokes is inhaling poisonous chemicals and smoke directly into their lungs.

St Nicodemus of the Holy Mountain called cigarettes “foul stinking grass,” and Saint Parthenius counseled the pilgrims not to smoke. Since it harms the body, which is “the temple of God,” he called cigarettes, and tobacco in general, “incense of the devil.”

I would talk to your confessor about it.

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Nicodemus of the Holy Mountain called cigarettes “foul stinking grass,” and Saint Parthenius counseled the pilgrims not to smoke. Since it harms the body, which is “the temple of God,” he called cigarettes, and tobacco in general, “incense of the devil.”

I would agree that all things in moderation so long as they don’t harm you or others is acceptable. Naturally, each case must be looked at but I feel confident that me and my Cob won’t be being brought up in the confessional. Excellent answers!

It is true that the Victorian attitude popularly called Puritianism (its relation to the historical Puritans is disputed, and I don’t have the knowledge to weigh in on that) was/is often an unbalanced exaggeration of moral caution or prudishness. You get a solid Catholic rejection of this prudishness in hearty Catholic authors like G.K. Chesterton.

On the other hand I think C.S. Lewis was on to something when he attributed modern attitudes towards “Puritanism” to the demons. Most of humanity has historically been, and especially is in our era, more threatened by hedonism than by puritanism. Too often we can, whether in a secular or religious spirit, consent to hedonistic activity with the excuse that we must not, of course, be Puritanical.

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