Tobacco has been a marketable commodity in America for more than 500 years. In that time, the big-leafed weed has become an economic powerhouse, but the damage it has caused is inestimable, from its role in establishing slavery in the southern colonies to its effects on the body.

A History of Promotion

During World War II, the Korean War, and Vietnam the military included cigarettes as part of C-rations for the troops, thus addicting millions.  

Movie stars like John Wayne in “The Quiet Man” and Humphrey Bogart in “Casablanca” smoked almost non-stop and were featured puffing away in publicity stills, glamorizing the habit.  Both men later died from cancer at relatively young ages (Bogart at 57 from throat cancer and Wayne at 72 from lung cancer).

Before the 1960s, cigarette companies marketed the weed as part of a vigorous, healthy lifestyle.  Young, vibrant people were shown in various activities, few of which lent themselves to smoking.  

The Marlboro Man’s message that his brand was macho personified is still one of the most effective advertising campaigns in history.  Women were similarly targeted with “ladylike” smokes like Virginia Slims.

The Truth about Smoking Emerges

While there’s no Bible verse expressly calling “gambling” a sin, many verses certainly point out that our gains are to be fruits of our labor.

Common sense has always told people that smoking is unhealthy; chronic coughing and other unpleasant side effects are easily evident.  

Yet, it wasn’t until the mid-20th century that modern science determined without doubt that tobacco is poisonous, with smoking a diabolically efficient way to deliver the toxin.

When the data about tobacco’s harm rolled in at last, the shine was off.  In 1964, the United States Surgeon General released a report warning of smoking’s health hazards, and Congress responded in 1965 with a law requiring a warning on all cigarette packs.  

Great Britain put health warnings on packs in 1971, and most other countries have followed. 

In 1970, Congress passed a bill signed by President Richard Nixon banning tobacco ads on television and radio. 

Children and teens have long been barred from buying tobacco products. The first laws restricting sales by age began in the 1880s. The laws varied by state, and 20 states had raised the age of sale to 21 by 2019.  

Still, the CDC estimated that 14% of adults smoked cigarettes in 2017, with 37.3% of 12th graders saying they had used a vape over the past year.

In December 2019, President Trump signed a bill passed by Congress  raising the national age of tobacco product sales to 21.

Skipping Tobacco Investments

Likewise, in 1 Corinthians 6:12, Paul explains that, “All things are lawful unto me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any.” (NKJV)

John Wesley (1703-1791), the founder of the Methodist movement, urged his followers to avoid partnering or investing with those who profited from alcohol, tobacco, weapons or gambling.

In 1928, Philip Carret launched the Fidelity Mutual Trust, which became the Pioneer Fund, one of the first-ever mutual funds.  The Fund rejected companies that traded in alcohol or tobacco. 

In 1994, Timothy Plan was launched, with five screens for harmful practices or products, which included tobacco.

Today, Timothy Plan’s Longevity filter screens out companies that own or produce tobacco products, including vaping.  Here’s the brief explanation from Timothy’s website:

TOBACCO: It’s known as a silent killer and a common cause of lung cancer, so we do not invest in companies that manufacture tobacco. This screen identifies manufacturers of cigarettes, cigars, smokeless tobacco products, tobacco leaf distributors and marketers, and tobacco specific retail stores.

The Real Cost

Like any vice, gambling has the power of being addictive, which explains why so many people seek out groups like Gamblers Anonymous after having lost their life’s savings or ruptured family trust.

According to the American Cancer Society, more than 480,000 people in the United States die each year from illnesses related to tobacco use. In other words, smoking causes about one out of five deaths in the U.S. Here’s more from the ACS website:

  • Smoking cigarettes kills more Americans than alcohol, car accidents, HIV, guns, and illegal drugs combined.
  • Cigarette smokers die younger than non-smokers.
  • Smoking shortens male smokers’ lives by about 12 years and female smokers’ lives by about 11 years.
  • Smoking not only causes cancer. It can damage nearly every organ in the body, including the lungs, heart, blood vessels, reproductive organs, mouth, skin, eyes, and bones.

Just in the 20th century, tobacco use killed an estimated 100 million people, according to Bloomberg News’ summary of a World Health Organization report.  This is more than both world wars combined. 

Internationally, the fight to curb smoking “has begun to expand to low- and middle-income nations where 80 percent of smokers live,” Bloomberg reports. “Smoking rates are declining in every part of the world, with the exception of Africa and the Middle East. Still, one in five adults smokes globally. Tobacco is thought to kill 6 million people a year and is projected to take 8 million lives annually by 2030 as the population expands. A study in the British Medical Journal called cigarettes ‘the deadliest artefact in the history of human civilisation.’”

Shift in Investing

Jesus encourages good stewardship in many ways, one of the most memorable of which is his rebuke of the lazy servant in Matthew 25: 14-30.   Having left three servants with differing amounts in their trust, he returned and found that two of the three had invested the money and returned it to Him with earnings, while the third merely buried it. 

Large makers of cigarettes are swiftly moving to diversify, with non-tobacco products and tobacco-derivative products such as vaping.

“Companies have staked their future on electronic cigarettes in recent years, with Altria — one of the world’s largest tobacco producers — purchasing a 35% stake in San Francisco-based e-cigarette maker Juul in 2018,” reported in August 2020.   

“Vaping products drew scrutiny from federal regulators concerned about their attractiveness to children. In response, tobacco companies pushed for states to raise the smoking age to 21 — something Congress did last year,” the article said.

“But advocates say the products are still too easy for teens to get, especially with enticing flavors such as ‘mango’ and ‘tropical fusion.’ The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says if smoking continues among children at the current rate, it projects 5.6 million people younger than 18 will die from a smoking-related illness.”

With tobacco increasingly seen as a health threat, cigarette companies have been lessening their dependence on longtime lucrative products. 

“Even some of the largest tobacco companies in the world are looking at making the move away from traditional cigarettes toward alternative products that they hope will offer the same appeal to their customers but without some of the risks associated with smoking,” the Motley Fool reported in an August 13, 2019 article.

“In fact, the trend is very much against tobacco stocks in the ETF universe. In late 2018, leading index provider MSCI came out with a suite of indexes that were specially designed to exclude stocks of companies that are involved in the tobacco industry. The indexes were tailored for those following environmental, social, and governance-related investing philosophies, and the head of MSCI’s ESG index division noted that ‘there is growing demand for exclusionary indexes globally, including interest among the world’s largest pension and endowment funds for tobacco exclusion benchmarks.’”

The Bottom Line

“We don’t care how much money the tobacco companies make with their new products,” said Timothy Plan founder Art Ally. “We will continue to filter them out of our mutual funds along with other harmful products and activities. Honoring the Lord means not profiting from other people’s misery.”

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