Smoking among Yeshiva Students
To the Editor:
There is a very serious problem causing morbidity and affecting the health of thousands of young yeshiva students. That problem is smoking. Despite the fact that everyone knows that smoking is harmful, the adolescent yeshiva boys are still taking it up in great numbers, both in Israel and the U.S. The young boy sees his teachers and, even more importantly, the older boys in his yeshiva smoking and, wanting to imitate their mature-looking image, starts smoking cigarettes. The cold, hard fact is that nine out of ten people who start regularly smoking will become addicted to the nicotine in the smoke and live the rest of their lives as addicts. These youngsters start smoking for social reasons only, but often are forced to continue because they are quickly addicted.
Smoking is the greatest risk factor for lung cancer, emphysema, heart attacks, strokes, peripheral circulatory problems, and every other major cause of early morbidity and mortality in our society. Secondhand smoke can affect the health of non-smokers who live and work with smokers. One out of three smokers eventually dies from complications of smoking. Why are we allowing the children to start this misery when they are too young to have the judgment to realize the consequences? Studies have shown that if a person has not started to smoke by age twenty he probably will never start. Most smokers start as adolescents, so it is on this age group that we must focus our attention. It has been nearly impossible to make headway in stopping the person who is already addicted to nicotine. These smokers will often admit that they deeply regret ever starting to smoke, but they cannot stop because it is very difficult to break the addiction. The only practical approach to stopping smoking in the yeshiva community is to prevent the boys from starting. Since the main motivation to start smoking is to emulate the behavior of admired older students it would be ad- vantageous to ruin the image that these role models have. Social pressure, which is the problem, must be turned into the solution. The younger boys must look upon the older smoking boys as stupid and socially undesirable.
This can be done through a three-pronged approach:
1. Go into the boys’ schools at the sixth- and seventh- grade levels and clearly teach them what happens to people who smoke. A program of health education at this age will arm them with the information to resist when they are later confronted with the smoking option.
2. Boys’ schools and summer camps must treat smoking by a student as a most serious infraction and not tolerate it from any of their students if they are ever caught smoking anywhere. The fear of getting caught will further discourage them.
3. Go to the girls’ high schools and teach them the serious consequences of smoking. The girls don’t smoke at all. We must teach them to be terrified to marry a boy who smokes. Explain that even living with a smoker can be injurious to their health. Try to convince them that a boy who smokes could easily become a sick man at a young age — one smoker in three becomes seriously ill, often in his or her 40’s and 50’s. Teach them to boycott smokers in the shidduch market. This will make it im- possible for the older boys to smoke in public. Once they are only seen smoking outside by the garbage cans be- hind the pizza shop, their image will be much less exciting to the younger boys.
Although the boys will still be confronted with many admired adults who smoke, it is hoped that they will only pity them and not try to copy this unfortunate aspect of their behavior. To punish a boy for doing what his teacher does seems unfair, but this is such a crucial matter of life and death that fairness should not be an issue.
By this simple approach many lives could be saved. Prevention is the only reliable cure for this problem. We must act now.
Susan K. Schulman, M.D.
English-language material on the halachic aspects of smoking can be found in the following sources:
M. Aberbach, “Smoking and the Halakha,” in Tradition 10, no. 3 (1969): 49.
J. D. Bleich, “Smoking,” in Tradition 16, no. 4 (1977): 121.
J. D. Bleich, “Smoking in Public Places” in Tradition 21, no. 2 (1983): 172-77.
R. Hendel, Z. Weiss, and J. D. Bleich, “Communications on Smoking” in Tradition 17, no. 3 (1978): 137-42.
B. F. Herring, “Smoking and Drugs” in Jewish Ethics and Halakha for Our Times (1984): 221-43.
F. Rosner, “Cigarette Smoking and Jewish Law” in Journal of Halacha and Contemporary Society 4 (1982): 33-45 (= Halacha and Contemporary Society, ed. A. S. Cohen : 265-72).