Jump to navigation Jump to search

Although the tobacco plant was brought to Europe from America early in the 16th century, it was used only as a medicinal plant throughout that century. Sir Walter Raleigh introduced the smoking of tobacco to England in 1586, from where it gradually spread to Holland and the rest of Europe, although with some initial government resistance. Rotterdam and Amsterdam became centers of the tobacco trade and the Dutch were early among the relatively largest users of tobacco and have remained so. Some Mennonites in Holland became tobacco merchants at an early date in the 17th century. In France and Spain the practice of taking snuff was the first form of using tobacco for pleasure. Pipe-smoking preceded the use of cigars, and the cigarette did not seriously compete with cigars until the beginning of the 20th century. The vast increase in the smoking habit, especially in the form of cigarettes, has been a prominent feature of American culture only since 1910 and is largely due to skillful advertising by cigarette manufacturers. The chewing of tobacco was more prominent in the 19th century, but has now almost disappeared. Antitobacco organizations arose in Europe and America in the latter half of the 19th century somewhat parallel to the temperance and abstinence movements (England 1853, France 1868, Sweden 1886, United States 1901 in the Anti-Cigaret League, Germany 1912).

The first recorded reaction of Mennonites against the use of tobacco was negative. John Horsch, in an article in the Herold der Wahrheit (1888, p. 148), quotes article 24 of the Ordnungsbrief of the Strasbourg Conference of 1607 as forbidding the use of snuff. "So far as snuff-taking is concerned, it is recognized that public snuff-taking is offensive, hence shall not be permitted. If someone needs it as a medicine he is to do it secretly." Among the articles drawn up in 1639 and read annually, at least until 1716, before the Frisian Conference in North Holland in the 17th-18th centuries, No. 9 is on tobacco; it reads: "No one shall use tobacco because of a bad habit, whereby one wastes time and money and whereby one becomes a burden to others who do not use it, because of a bad odor and spitting. Yea, this evil is becoming so great that instead of getting out the Bible or the hymnbook for mutual edification, the tobacco pipe is brought out for scandal." (The articles were published by Steven Blaupot ten Cate, Geschiedenis der Doopsgezinden in Holland, Zeeland, Utrecht en Gelderland 2 v. Amsterdam: P.N. van Kampen, 1847: v. II, 223-28.) Pieter Pietersz and other Dutch preachers in the 17th century vehemently opposed the growing use of tobacco (Doopsgezinde Bijdragen [1896]: 24).

However, the use of tobacco became fairly common among Mennonites in general in Europe, although in recent decades its use has greatly declined in South Germany, Switzerland, and France, and is now almost unknown in some of these areas; this is, however, not the case in Holland.

In Russia smoking never became so widespread among the Mennonites, although there seems to have been no objection to it by the main body. A short-lived attempt by Cornies about 1845 to establish tobacco-raising in the Molotschna settlement failed because other crops were more profitable. The Kleine Gemeinde (founded 1814), the Mennonite Brethren (founded 1860), the Krimmer Mennonite Brethren (founded 1869), and probably the Hutterites, seem to have opposed the use of tobacco from the beginning.

The use of tobacco among the American Mennonites was quite common until the rise of the anti-alcohol and anti-tobacco movement in the country, which substantially influenced all groups except the Old Order Amish and Old Order Mennonites. Harley Stucky has shown that some of the Russian Mennonite immigrants of the 1870's who were opposed to the use of tobacco and who came into contact with the American Mennonites and especially John F. Funk of Elkhart, Indiana, the publisher of the Herald of Truth and the Mennonitische Rundschau, probably exerted a wholesome influence against it. The evidence is clear that in the last half of the 19th century smoking and chewing were so common among all the Mennonite groups of Swiss-South German background as to be almost universal. There was also some use of snuff. Chewing was so common at home and even during the church services that spittoons were found behind the pulpits in some of the meetinghouses. A number of the older women smoked pipes (clay or corncob) in the home. An Amish bishop in Iowa complained that some of the ministers said "they cannot preach without a chew of tobacco in their mouths." Daniel Brenneman wrote in the Herald of Truth in September 1871, "Who can go into a house of worship and find in almost every nook and corner the filthy stains and noisome stench of tobacco as may be found in some places and feel like justifying the habit, and feel that those do wrong who protest against it?" John F. Funk, the editor, commented in the March 1878 issue, "Here among our American Mennonites the use of tobacco prevails to a very large extent. . . . Some have declared that they would no longer patronize the paper if we should continue to admit articles of this kind [against the use of tobacco]." But there was a growing minority against tobacco and gradually, by education (not legislation) they won the day; by the end of the first quarter of the 19th century its use had practically ceased in the more progressive sections of the Mennonite Church (MC); it went out more slowly in Eastern Pennsylvania and among some of the communities of Amish background in Iowa, Nebraska, and Ontario. The gradual change is well illustrated by tracing the record of antitobacco resolutions in the Virginia Mennonite Conference. In 1894 the minutes say, "Whereas there is so much chewing tobacco and spitting on the floor in the house of God in time of service, is it not a duty for our members as well as the ministers to speak and protest against such a filthy habit as well as all other bad habits? Decided in the affirmative." Fifty years later (1941) the conference discipline said: "The use of tobacco in any form is not only a filthy habit but its use results in physical injury and is Scripturally inconsistent. Its use is hereby discouraged by both precept and example. Its use shall disqualify any member from ordination. No one shall be received into church membership who does not do all in his power to discontinue its use."

J. W. Fretz, who did careful research in the subject in 1949, summarizes his findings as follows:

(1) By and large, the custom of using tobacco among older Mennonite groups in Europe and America seems to have been similar to the customs of society in general on this point. The custom was at first seemingly opposed, then gradually accepted and finally adopted in a rather widespread fashion. Traditionally, there seems to have been no general conscience against its use. (2) Such groups as the Mennonite Brethren, the Krimmer Mennonite Brethren, the Kleine Gemeinde, the Evangelical Mennonite Brethren, and the Church of God in Christ Mennonite seem to have had a clear and consistent witness against this custom from their origin up to this time. (3) In recent decades there is evidence of a growing conscience against the production and use of tobacco among the Mennonites (Mennonite Church [MC]), the Conservative Amish, and in some cases among the Old Order Amish. (4) An increase in the use of tobacco, especially cigarette smoking, is evident in General Conference and certain Mennonite (MC) churches where the subject is not considered a test of church membership or a matter for discipline. (5) The use of tobacco among Mennonites is definitely related to fashions and fads. Those who have adopted the custom have done so in imitation of those with whom they associated, desiring to conform to the prevailing pattern of social behavior. Those who adopt the cigarette smoking habit are the same ones who are freely adopting changes in society generally. It is an aspect of secularization in that it is a demonstration of individuals accepting for their standards of value and patterns of behavior criteria from secular society rather than from religious faith or the Scriptures. The seeming contradiction between the ethical and moral idealism of the Mennonites on the one hand and the custom of using tobacco on the other is explained in a large measure by the subtle secularization process going on in Mennonite groups.

The growing of tobacco is limited to certain areas where the proper combination of soil and climate makes it profitable. The only extensive tobacco growing areas in Mennonite settlements are in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania (introduced after the middle of the 19th century), and Essex County, Ontario (settled by Mennonites from Russia 1922-25). A growing conscience against producing a crop whose use is prohibited or frowned upon has led to a strong decline in tobacco raising among Mennonites of the Lancaster Mennonite Conference (Mennonite Church). No such development has taken place among the Old Order Mennonites or Old Order Amish of this region.

A curiosity is the introduction of a criticism of smoking into the German edition of Menno Simons' works published at Elkhart in 1876. On page 376 in Part I Menno is made to advise parents as follows: "Gestattet ihnen keine Gemeinschaft mit den bösen unnützen Kindern, von denen sie nichts als lügen, fluchen, schwören, rauchen, und Bübereien lernen." The Dutch Opera Omnia of 1681 has "vechten" in place of "rauchen," and the German translations of this section usually have "schlagen," although the Peter van Riesen edition of 1834 (Danzig) omits the word. The English translation has "fighting."


Fretz, J. W. "The Growth and Use of Tobacco Among Mennonites." Proceedings of the Seventh Annual Conference on Mennonite Cultural Problems. 1949: 87-100.

Stucky, Harley J. "Cultural Interaction Among Mennonites" (unpublished M.A. thesis, Northwestern University, 1947) 40-45.

Author(s) Harold S Bender
Date Published 1959

Cite This Article

MLA style

Bender, Harold S. "Tobacco." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1959. Web. 26 Sep 2021.

APA style

Bender, Harold S. (1959). Tobacco. Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 26 September 2021, from


Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 4, pp. 732-734. All rights reserved.

©1996-2021 by the Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. All rights reserved.