Coffin Nails --Part 1

Coffin Nails
Part 1

Charles W. Taylor

Dr. Charles Taylor, M.D., M.S., F.R.C.S.(C), is a Neuro-surgeon in the assembly at Calgary, Canada. This is the first part of two informative articles from him. It would be well to spread, particularly among the young, the facts he deals with in these important papers. These papers are the substance of addresses delivered at Bethany Chapel, Calgary, Alberta.

What? Know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom ye have of God, and ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price; therefore, glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s” (1 Cor. 6:19-20).


While it is not necessarily wrong for a Christian ever to take a drink, it is quite clear that a substantial segment of Evangelical Protestant Christianity has stood foursquare on total abstinence, and not without good reasons for doing so. First, alcohol is a narcotic drug, depressing and impairing right from the outset the functions of the brain itself. Second, alcohol is a drug which is addictive, and people who use it very often tend to crave more and more, until it gains an irresistable hold on them. Third, as Christians we are not permitted just to indulge our own wishes, our own desires, our own ambitions. Rather, we are constrained and enjoined in the Holy Scriptures to love our neighbors as ourselves and to have special regard for our brethren in Christ. If our use of something which might be perfectly lawful causes our fellow Christian to stumble, then it is not expedient for me to do this, as the Apostle Paul points out (cf. Rom. 14). As a Christian physician, I stand foursquare on the verbal plenary inspiration of every word between the covers of the BOOK OF BOOKS, but hasten to add that when Paul gave Timothy, his son in the faith, a kindly, friendly little word of advice about his health, this can in no way be construed as some sort of “proof text” to condone social drinking. The very most that can be taken out of that particular reference (see 1 Tim. 5:23) is the use of alcohol for medicinal purposes. My suggestion is that you visit your physician, for there may be better drugs than were known in Paul’s day.


When I was just a boy in Ontario, Canada, the 20th century wasn’t very old and cigarettes were often referred to as “coffin nails,” no doubt rather humorously by people who on religious grounds objected to smoking. It was, therefore, an epithet used only half seriously. One thing sure, in those days nobody had any idea how close to the truth that epithet was.

When the Spaniards came to this continent in 1518, they met the Aztec Indians, and these Indians had a habit of taking the leaf of a tobacco plant, rolling it in corn husks, lighting it, and then inhaling its fumes. This is the first known use of tobacco. In spite of this, the use of cigarettes was virtually unknown in the United States prior to 1860. Actually, it was not until World War I and the period immediately afterwards that the use of cigarettes skyrocketed to astronomical proportions, and it was at this time that the term “coffin nails” became so popular. However, after World War II the use of cigarettes surpassed even the astronomical proportions reached following World War I, so much so that by 1940 some 190 billion of these things were being smoked annually in the United States alone. By 1950 this number had climbed to 400 billion.

Life and Breath

In 1912 a medical textbook spoke of carcinoma (i.e., cancer of the lung) as being one of the rarest of diseases. For some reason or other in the 1920’s people began noticing that cancer of the lung was on the increase. In England between 1924 and 1951 there was a statistical tenfold increase, while in Holland during this same period of time a twentyfold increase occurred.

Back in 1947 I was working in the Department of Pathology at Banting Institute in Toronto under Professor William Boyd who was greatly intrigued by the phenomenal increase in lung cancer. He was an older man by this time and had lived long enough to be very much impressed by this phenomenon. His days in pathology (i.e., the study of diseased processes in the human body) went back to 1912 when it was indeed a rare thing to see this, but by 1947 we were turning up case after case in his department.

The statistics now show that between 1948 and 1968 in the United States carcinoma has undergone a 500 per cent increase, the situation now being such that more men die of carcinoma of the lung than from any other part of the body. Indeed, one in seven of all cancer deaths is caused by carcinoma which strangles its victims. This is a far cry from 1912 when in medical textbooks lung cancer was described as the rarest of diseases.

What has caused this phenomenal increase? A first clue came in 1949 and in 1950 when a Dr. Winder in conjunction with Dr. Graham studied carefully 684 proven cases of lung cancer in both men and women. Of these, 605 were in men and only eight of these 605 were non-smokers. Similar figures came to light in England at about the same time. A study there was conducted of 1,357 cases of lung cancer and of these only seven were non-smokers. People began to think and to wonder. As a result of this the American Cancer Society undertook a monumental study of this situation. They undertook a detailed study of the lives of 180,000 men between the ages of 50 and 69 years old, noting carefully their place of work, their work and social habits, and their smoking habits, these men representing a typical cross-section of the people of the United States. They studied this group for 44 months, during which time 11,870 of these men died. Photostatic copies of their death certificates were obtained and the results studied. The evidence demonstrated overwhelmingly that smoking and lung cancer was found between the number of cigarettes used per day and the incidence of death from heart disease. were indisputably related, and since that study no one has seriously doubted the validity of this hypothesis.

Through this study other things of interest came to light as well. Not only was there a tremendously high incidence of cancer of the lung in people who smoked, but cancer of the larynx or voice box, cancer of the esophagus (i.e., the tube through which we swallow our food and put it in our stomachs; the gullet), and cancer of the urinary bladder. Research people began to work at this problem and eight different carcinogenic substances (i.e., chemical substances capable of producing cancer when injected into animals or applied to animals in other ways were discovered in the smoke of the tobacco leaf. The most potent of these was 3, 4, 9, 10 dibenz pareme, and this substance when injected into 4,000 mice produced cancer in every last one of them. The evidence, even though circumstantial, is absolutely overwhelming and unequivocal. The cigarette companies retaliated by bringing out filters which they implied would filter out the noxious elements in tobacco smoke. However, the Surgeon General of the United States Public Health Service said concerning cigarette filters that no method of treating tobacco by filtering the smoke has been demonstrated to be effective in materially reducing or eliminating the hazard of lung cancer.

Take It to Heart

The suspected relationship between smoking and lung cancer precipitated the study with the result that still another thing came to light. It was that death from coronary artery disease (i.e., the disease of the arteries supplying the tissues of the heart muscle and loosely called heart attack) was 70 per cent higher in this group of men who died among the smokers than among the non-smokers. Furthermore, by studying this group of people a direct relationship was found between the number of cigarettes used per day and the incidence of death from heart disease. Those who smoked a half to one pack per day developed an incidence of death from heart disease that was fifty per cent higher than those who did not. Those who smoked two packs and up per day showed such a sky rocketing incidence of heart disease that the overall incidence of coronary occlusions was 70 per cent greater in those who smoked than in those who did not.

A similar but less marked trend was noted in relation to the arteries in the brain where catastrophic events produced what we call strokes. This was something that had not been suspected and since this has come to light I can tell you that the behaviour pattern of doctors in medical meetings has changed drastically. Prior to the time when these facts became so clear-cut and crisp, you could go to a medical meeting, and if there were 500 people in the meeting you could easily count anywhere from 30 to 50 people smoking cigarettes at once. Now you will find in the same circumstances perhaps seven or eight smoking cigarettes at the same time. The people who really know are really doing something about this serious matter.

Even though we didn’t know it back in the 1920’s when we termed cigarettes “coffin nails,” we now know that smoking is the greatest cause of public terror No. 1 which is heart disease, and that it is the greatest cause of public terror No. 2 which is cancer. That is why I am convinced that genuine Christian people whose bodies are the very temple of the Holy Spirit cannot, or should not, in good conscience subject these bodies of ours to the noxious influence of tobacco.