Sikhism and Smoking
by Bikramjit Singh Dhillon
Smoking and drug
taking is banned in Sikhism and using tobacco is listed in the Sikh
Rehat Maryada (Code of Conduct ) as one of the four transgression (Kurahits).
The Sikh Rehat Maryada was drafted by an expert committee of eminent
Sikh scholars. Many western friends of mine are surprised that Sikhism
explicitly forbids the use of tobacco and this may be because there
is no prohibition of tobacco use in other religions.
Tobacco first started
being used for smoking around 100 B.C. by native Americans tribes and
the Europeans first came into contact with it when Columbus discovered
America. During the nest two centuries tobacco use was spread by the
Europeans across the entire known world. it is interesting to note that
tobacco was paid to the English clergy as wages right upto the 1750's.
Tobacco was introduced by the Portuguese into India during the 17th
century. It was traded through the Portuguese trading post on the west
coast of India. During the time of Guru Gobind Singh tobacco use had
become common by the Mughal nobles.
It may appear strange
to people of other religions as to why Sikhism has such a Anti-smoking
stance, the reason is that smoking is recorded as being forbidden by
all the Sikh writers who were contemporaries of the 10th Guru. According
to these writers Guru Gobind Singh was once riding with his Sikhs when
he suddenly stopped his horse and after dismounting proceeded to rip
out a wild tobacco plant. The Sikhs asked why the Guru had ripped the
plant out and the Guru replied that the Sikhs should avoid alcohol as
it destroys a generation but tobacco destroys several generations. The
Guru then forbade his Sikhs to ever use tobacco. Early European writers
who came across the Sikhs in the 1780's were perplexed as to why tobacco
was forbidden for the Sikhs as tobacco was being widely used by both
the British and the Indians at that time. Of all the Nations that the
Europeans came into contact with the Sikhs were the only one who had
a religious injection against tobacco.
Until the 1950's
smoking was encouraged by governments as a means to acquire tax. Only
in 1950 when Morton Levin published his study into the connection between
lung cancer and smoking did any governments take notice. according to
the World Health Organization report of 1995 worldwide lung cancer is
the biggest single cause of cancer deaths in men. Smoking causes approximately
3 million deaths worldwide and if current trends persist it will kill
10 million a year from 2020. Smoking causes about 20.5% of all deaths
in developed countries. These are frightening statistics but the biggest
tragedy is that smoking is the single largest preventable factor in
premature death, disability and disease. These effects of smoking are
not limited to the smokers themselves but to those around them. Family,
friends and even complete strangers in the smoker's vacinity suffer.
Smoking while pregnant has been linked to sudden infant death syndrome
(cot death), bronchitis, pneumonia and higher risk of miscarriage (The
Guru had said that tobacco would destroy several generations)
Apart from the
effects on health , smoking also takes a large chunk of family budgets
sometimes as much as 20% if both parents smoke. Smoking is increasing
in developing countries amongst people who can ill afford the habit.
There are roughly 1.1 billion smokers worldwide about 17 % of the total
population and about 6000 billion cigarettes are smoked every year.
According to some estimates about 300 million is spent on the habit
worldwide with about 100 billion being spent in the developing countries.
This sheer wastage is borne by families who live in slum quarters unable
to better themselves due to the drain on their resources caused by smoking.
The Sikhs have
escaped from the effects of the 'evil weed' and the absence of smoking
amongst Sikhs has been noted by several western writer when they visit
India. Today the Sikhs can wonder at the foresight of their Great Guru
Gobind Singh that he foresaw the miseries that would stem from the tobacco
plant and wisely instructed the Sikhs to keep it at an arms length.
Such foresight is indeed befitting a great prophet of Waheguru.
WAHEGURU JI KA
KHALSA WAHEGURU JI KI FATEH