Rabbi Hoffman places a good portion of the blame on the boys in Beis Midrash, whom the younger bochrim look up to. Because they smoke, he posits, the younger kids want to emulate them and smoke as well. Their activity is undermining any anti-smoking message that the school or parents are hoping to communicate.
Maybe it's because I was never one of the "cool kids" in school, but I could never quite understand what drives someone to smoke. It always seemed to me that it was a dirty, smelly habit -- aside from any health problems that it may cause. My mother is a long-time smoker, and, fortunately, as much as I look up to her, I never once thought to follow in her footsteps in this matter. Even at a very young age, I was able to understand that smoking is simply bad.
You wouldn't think that there could be anyone who would actually defend smoking. Even the smokers that I know would never tell a person "It's okay, smoke, you'll be able to quit if you want to." And yet, someone actually wrote into Matzav.com in response to Rabbi Hoffman's editorial, defending smoking.
Y.W. actually defended the practice on the grounds that "it is one of the only permitted outlets for our young men, our yeshiva boys." He observes (rightly) that we should pick our battles when it comes to our kids and not say "assur" (forbidden) all the time. However, he (wrongly) chooses smoking as something to let slide.
He goes on to state:
Having been involved with youth for many years, I can tell you with certainty that the large majority of boys who smoke stop after they are married. Don’t believe the propaganda that the activists will try to sell you about young husbands dying from smoking. It’s a lie. Again, most boys who smoke stop after matrimony.
Personally, I find it a bit hard to believe that the "large majority" of boys who smoke manage to stop before marriage. I've seen plenty of people smoke after marriage and I know how difficult a nicotine addiction is to overcome. But, for the moment, let's grant him the point and say that the majority can quit cold-turkey. There are still two relevant points:
1. There's a way to help even the minority who can't quit -- simply don't start. How about instead of saying "you can quit anytime" (which, according to Y.W. helps only the majority), we say "Don't start smoking" which helps almost everyone.
2. Even if they can stop after marriage, the damage may have already been done. Smoking during an early part of a person's life can affect them even long after they quit. I, personally, know someone who died of lung cancer decades after he quit smoking. Leonard Nimoy (the actor who portrayed Spock in the Star Trek franchise) recently announced that he suffers from chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder -- and he quit smoking thirty years ago! Why should we allow our young men to damage their bodies now, even if they can stop adding damage later?
We, as parents, should certainly be picking and choosing our battles. We should not be saying "assur" all the time. But there are issues to give in on and issues where we *should* draw a red line -- and smoking, which can cause lifetime addiction, illness and death, should be one of the latter issues.