Q: What does Judaism say about the BMA’s support to ban cigarette sales to anyone born after 2000?
- Rabbi Jason Holtz says:
The British Medical Association recently voted to support a ban on cigarette sales to anyone born after 2000.
The science and statistics are clear: smoking is the number one preventable cause of death in the United Kingdom. According to the experts, most smokers begin as teenagers, at a time in their life when it is difficult to make rational choices.
In part because it is so hard to quit, it is imperative that we help future generations to never begin in the first place. The major Jewish principle at stake is pikuach nefesh, saving a life. It is one of the most important mitzvot, sacred obligations, in all of Jewish tradition.
The most frequent critique of limiting tobacco is that it limits liberty. Banning tobacco sales though is not simply a matter of liberty, because smoking affects more than just smoker. Anyone who breathes in the smoke is exposed to a deadly poison.
At the end of the day, though, it is simple. Our tradition is one of responsibility, and one of the most important of those responsibilities is to save lives. This proposal will do it and deserves our support.
- Jason Holtz is Rabbi at Bromley Reform Synagogue
- Deborah Blausten says:
My knee-jerk response, rooted in Reform Jewish values, is to reject a ban in favour of education and regulation, relying on individuals to exercise responsible autonomy in deciding how to act. The problem with smoking is that while we know these things have some impact, huge numbers of people continue to put their lives and those of others at risk despite repeated graphic public health campaigns.
Some refer to the BMA’s motion as ‘illiberal’ and ‘an invasion of privacy’, but I disagree. A solid case can be made to say that smokers don’t have true autonomy; addiction heavily influences the ability to choose whether to smoke or not. It cannot be argued that this is a private issue because of the impact of ‘second hand smoke’ (and Jewish law doesn’t discern between private and public lives).
There is no question that smoking damages health, and this is reflected in the body of responsa where rabbis have variously prohibited smoking as a form of ‘self harm’, advised that it is prohibited to give another person a cigarette, and suggested synagogues should set up groups to help people quit. As the BMA continues to use its voice, we should add ours in support.
- Deborah Blausten is Jeneration’s Fieldworker. She studied medicine at UCL.