Tobacco ad ban a rare legislative accomplishment

smoking haredi 224 88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
smoking haredi 224 88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
The recent Knesset – whose legislative accomplishments were lackluster, to put it mildly – somewhat redeemed itself when, with its last breath, it finally passed a long-overdue law that significantly restricts cigarette sales and advertising. Unfortunately, however, that law does not take the final step of banning all advertising of tobacco products, permitting it in certain of the print media, albeit with restrictions as to how they can be represented. This presents a challenge to The Jerusalem Post and other papers that will continue to be able to legally run such ads as they have in the past.
Many years ago, in a teshuva (legal opinion) written by Rabbi Seymour Segal, the Law Committee of the Rabbinical Assembly declared that smoking was forbidden by Jewish law. Rabbi Segal based his answer on the rabbinic interpretations of Deuteronomy 4:15. “Take good care of your lives,” those interpretations say, forbid one from doing anything that endangers one’s life or the lives of others.
In concluding, the teshuva stated: “Scientific evidence has now established beyond doubt that smoking, especially cigarette smoking, is injurious to our health. It is now evident, too, that the non-smoker can be harmed when he/she has to suffer the smoke of those who use tobacco. The smoking habit is dirty, harmful and antisocial. It would, therefore, follow that Jewish ethics and Jewish law would prohibit the use of cigarettes.” 
More recently, Orthodox authorities have also taken a similar stand.
The Torah also specifically prohibits causing harm to others. This is the rabbinic understanding of the biblical prohibition “One must not put a stumbling block before the blind” (Leviticus 19:14). The Sifra, the early Tannaitic Midrash to Leviticus, set the tone for this broader interpretation of the verse. It is not to be understood literally, but rather as “the blind” being interpreted as “someone who is blind to the matter.” (Sifra p. 88:3 3:2). Thus it is forbidden to fool someone who does not understand or know better into believing something that is harmful to him or untrue
CLEARLY THIS same prohibition – “One must not put a stumbling block before the blind” (Lev.19:14) – would apply to advertising cigarettes, tobacco and various substitutes. Since the entire purpose of any ad – no matter how it is worded – is to entice someone to purchase the product, i.e., to use something whose usage Torah forbids because of the harm it causes.
Merely by creating or publishing such advertisements one is certainly misleading others into believing that they should use these products when the very opposite is the truth. In view of that, there is no doubt that anything done to promote the sale of cigarettes and cigarette substitutes is a violation of Jewish law and of ethical behavior.
Today, no one can possibly deny that cigarettes are dangerous and can cause death. Even the tobacco companies no longer make that claim. Instead, they are now spending millions and making billions by promoting various cigarette substitutes which, while not causing cancer, have also been shown to be addictive and to do physical harm to the brain and other organs.
Therefore, knowing that, by permitting advertising of cigarettes and cigarette substitutes, they are contributing to and encouraging a habit that often causes death and disease. I would hope, therefore, that the owners of the Post will realize they are not justified in carrying such ads and that the readers of the paper will indicate their opposition to such a practice.
I call upon the management of the Post to announce that from now on none of their publications will accept such advertisements. Legal they may be, but they are immoral and a serious breach of Jewish law. This is the test. Is the Post a paper of integrity that cares more for doing the right thing than for making more money? As a publication that prides itself on its promotion of Zionism and Judaism, and representing the highest standards of journalistic ethics, I would hope the answer will be that we will see no more cigarette ads in The Jerusalem Post or in any other publications owned by that company.
The writer is former president of the International Rabbinical Assembly, a member of its committee on Jewish Law and standards, and a two-time winner of the Jewish Book Award. His latest book, Akiva: Life, Legend, Legacy (JPS), has recently been published in Hebrew by Yediot Press and the Schechter Institute.