QUESTION:Mrs. White had a vision in 1848 about the dangers of tobacco. This was years ahead of the medical community, at a time when smoking was not condemned by medical doctors. Doesn't this prove she knew more than medical doctors? Doesn't this prove her visions came from God?
Mrs. White's earliest statement on tobacco was written in a letter in 1851 in which she said that giving up the use of tobacco was a requirement in order to receive the Seal of God:
I have seen in vision that tobacco was a filthy weed, and that it must be laid aside or given up. Said my accompanying angel, "If it is an idol it is high time it was given up, and unless it is given up the frown of God will be upon the one that uses it, and he cannot be sealed with the seal of the living God." If it is used as a medicine, go to God, He is the great Physician, and those that use the filthy weed for medicine greatly dishonor God.
In the Nov. 8, 1870 issue of Review and Herald, James White claimed this vision on tobacco was given in the fall of 1848, although there are no published statements from Ellen White regarding tobacco prior to 1851.
(Letter 5 to Brother Barnes, December 14, 1851. Released by the Ellen White Estate in 1990, Manuscript Releases Vol. 5, p. 377)
Proponents of Mrs. White point to this and later statements regarding tobacco and assure us that she was "ahead of her time" thanks to her divine insight.
The truth is, some in the medical community had been warning of the dire consequences of tobacco use for hundreds of years. Let's take a quick survey of the evidence:
1603 - "...the injurious nature of tobacco. ... The brain must needs be oppressed and infected by the horrible and poisonous smoke of tobacco..." (Drs. Ashworth, Ailworth, Gifford and Gwyn, cited in Corti, History of Smoking, pp 85-86)
The anti-tobacco crusade began in earnest in the 1830s, as noted by historian Ruth Clifford Engs:
1626 - Tobacco "endangereth the child to become brain damaged or of imperfect memory. (Sir Francis Bacon, Sylva Sylvarum: A Natural History, in Ten Centuries (London: Wm. Lee, 1626))
1653 - "Blood and brain become heated and dried up—the whole head is turned into a noxious furnace—it is fatal to all genius [and acts] to dull the finest intellect." (Dr. Jacobus Tappius, Prof. of Medicine, University of Helmstedt, Oratio de Tabaco ejusque Hodierno Abusu (Helmstedt, 1653))
1798 - Benjamin Rush, M.D. wrote an entire section on the dangers of tobacco use in his book Essays, Literary, Moral and Philosophical.
1833 - Rev. Orin S. Fowler published his book Disquisition on the Evils of Using Tobacco.
1836 - "...thousands and tens of thousands die of diseases of the lungs generally brought on by tobacco smoking. . . . How is it possible to be otherwise? Tobacco is a poison." (Samuel Green, New England Almanack and Farmer's Friend (1836).
1845 - Rev. Benjamin I. Lane published his book The Mysteries of Tobacco.
1848 - John Burdell, M.D., published his book Tobacco: Its Use and Abuse
1849 - Joel Shew, M.D., published his book Tobacco: Its History, Nature, and Effects on the Body and Mind
From the 1830s until the Civil War, health reformers operated on the thesis that tobacco was a deadly poison. In an effort to encourage individuals to quit, or not start its use, reformers protrayed the disgusting figures of tobacco chewers as intemperate, physically ill, and morally depraved. In 1849, as the result of reformers' increasing concern over tobacco, and in conscious imitation of temperance dfforts, the American Anti-tobacco Society was organized.
Thus we can see that in the 50 years leading up to Mrs. White's vision, numerous medical and religious leaders had warned of the dangers of tobacco. Some churches even banned its use. For example, the church that Mrs. White was raised in--the Methodist Church forbid its members from using tobacco:
Many health reformers of the day discussed the health consequences of tobacco. Edward Hitchcock, of Amherst College, considered tobacco and alcohol to be dangerous substances even when used moderately; he believed they caused moral deterioration and inherited weakness. Alcott regarded the use of tobacco as evil for similar reasons. Caleb Ticknor, a physician, deemed tobacco 'the most deadly, most noxious poison,' and considered it addictive. Larkin Coles, a Seventh-Day Adventist minister and physician, suggested tobacco did far more damage than alcohol to the health and welfare of Americans. Joel Shew, a hydropathic physician, published a tract listing 87 diseases cause by tobacco, the first being insanity and the last cancer.
(Clean Living Movements: American Cycles of Health Reform, pp. 43-44, (2001))
The Methodists forbad the use of Tobacco in the infancy of their society. The prohibition discovered a high and just sense of the self-denial, decency, and universal civility which are required by the gospel. (Rush, p. 268)
Of special interest is the Adventist preacher-physician Dr. Larkin B. Coles. Mrs. White would later copy profusely from his writings, and there is little doubt that she was familiar with his writings. In fact, two of his books, Philosophy of Health, and the Beauties and Deformities of Tobacco-Using were in her personal library. In his 1851 book Philosophy of Health, he referred to tobacco as "poisonous", "filthy narcotic", and "deadly weed" (p. 143). In The Beauties and Deformities of Tobacco-Using (first published in 1851), Coles has a whole chapter decrying the use of tobacco as a medicine, calling doctors who prescribe it "quacks" (pp. 29-36; 1853 ed.). Throughout the book, in words reminiscent of Sister Whites', he describes tobacco as an "idol", a "poisonous weed", and "filthy". (cf. pp. 7, 52, 59; 1853 ed.)
Finally, one must consider the impact of Joseph Bates, a close associate of the Whites in the 1840s, who was opposed to tobacco, having given it up himself in 1821. How much of the dangers of tobacco Mrs. White learned from her Methodist upbringing, or from her associate Josph Bates, or from Dr. Coles, or from others, is unknown. What is known is that many in the religious and medical communities, including some Adventists, were speaking out against the dangers of tobacco long before Ellen White joined the anti-tobacco crusade and she had ample opportunity to obtain her message from them.
Some have cited the quote below as proof of supernatural insight that went beyond the anti-tobacco protestors of her day:
"Tobacco is a poison of the most deceitful and malignant kind, having an exciting, then a paralyzing influence upon the nerves of the body. It is all the more dangerous because its effects upon the system are so slow, and at first scarcely perceivable. . . ." Spiritual Gifts, vol. 4a, p. 128.
They have claimed her "description of the effects of nicotine, tobacco's active agent, is more pharmacologically correct than Gunn's--tobacco first excites, then it depresses."
However, we should not be hasty to conclude that Gunn was her only source of inspiration. In 1853, in The Beauties and Deformities of Tobacco-Using, Coles says of tobacco:
"...there is found the deadly narcotic power of this poison, sending its exciting and paralyzing influence into every never of the body." (p. 22)
Therefore, it appears her supposed "insight" actually originated in a book written a decade or more before Spritual Gifts volume 4a.
"One seeming misfortune about this pernicious habit....is, it remains so long doing its fatal work without being perceived." (p. 61)