“Acceptable” Vices. Would You Give a Cigarette to a Homeless Person?

By Jeremy Reynalds, Ph.D. Founder and CEO Joy Junction Inc.

We all have our vices, but some are “acceptable.”

Smoking is becoming increasingly unacceptable in American society, but after seeing a picture of one of our Lifeline of Hope clients smoking, I wondered what our Facebook friends thought about it.

smokeWith that in mind, I posed this question. “Yes, he is smoking… We all have our vices-but some are ‘acceptable.’ Would you give him a dollar if he were honest in saying he needed a cigarette and needed to buy some smokes? Why or why not?”

The responses were interesting, and varied.

Maureen said she would, because “When you are struggling and homeless there are very few comforts that you can have.”

She added, “I have given a pack of smokes with a lighter to someone who asked for just one cigarette, along with a Snickers bar. It’s what I had in my purse.”

Manny was very clear in his response, writing “Oh heck yeah, if he told me the truth for what he needed.”

Manny told about a man in Portland he had seen holding a sign reading, “Why lie? I need a beer.” Manny gave him enough money for a six pack.

Katie Ann agreed, saying that for her honesty is key.

Susan said as a former smoker she would help if she could. She said she would even give alcohol to “an alcoholic who is sick. Not everyone understands, but there are alcoholics out there that have died from a lack of alcohol.”

Nancy said she would help out with a smoke, saying “Some very godly men I’ve known of were smokers.”

Veteran missionary Tom Terry had some thoughtful insight, writing “I learned when living in Mongolia that many people smoked because it helped them feel warmer in the sub-zero climate. I’d give the money. The giver isn’t responsible for what the receiver does with it. But the giver is obligated to help when he can.”

Caserina agreed, writing “When you choose to give, it is not for anyone to say what they buy. You give; it’s gone.”

Joey had a different perspective, commenting that smoking is a need not a want. He added, “If he wants something go work for it. Sorry. I don’t give money, but I have no problem buying someone a meal.”

Santiago agreed, saying that smoking is not a need, but a bad habit. Annette said cigarettes “will kill you.”

Well, Annette, that’s true, and while I’m not a smoker and agree about the terrible health consequences of smoking, let’s remember that our American diet is killing us also.

Lisa said she’s a smoker and while she knows it’s a bad habit, there’s more to it than that. She wrote, “It’s an addiction that is hard to overcome.”

David agreed, writing “Being a smoker, I know how it is to crave a cigarette when you don’t have one. It is a hard habit to stop.”

So what is the answer? To me, it’s become a matter of perspective and much more than a simple yes or no bumper sticker mentality decision when dealing with people in need.

A story I heard many years ago addresses the issue well. I can’t remember the source, but I suspect that it has “made the rounds” of anecdotal stories used by preachers.

An evangelist was scheduled to hold services at a prison. The chaplain met him at the gate and got him signed in. As they made their way to the chapel, he told the minister about God’s moving at the prison and how a number of inmates had come to personal faith in Jesus as a result.

The evangelist asked if he could meet any of the new converts. The chaplain pointed to a man leaning against the prison yard fence, and smoking. The visiting minister sniffed a bit and said, “We’d better get him to quit smoking.”

“That’s true,” the chaplain said with a slight smile, adding, “But let’s get him to quit killing people first.”

Need I say more?