The Amish, Smoking & Tobacco: Customs & Rules

Smoking is seen in some Amish communities

amish smokeAn Amishman with a cigarette dangling from his lips may seem an odd sight. But some Amish do accept smoking among their members.

Short answer: Do the Amish smoke? Some Amish people do smoke cigars, pipes, and cigarettes. Some raise tobacco as a cash crop. But other Amish are firmly against these practices. On the whole, smoking is not especially common across Amish society.

Overall, smoking is not too common among the Amish. However, in certain communities, it’s quite common, even the norm. And it actually tends to be more common in some of the more conservative and traditional settlements. Smoking among adults may even be thought of as kind of the tradition in certain places.

The smoking custom among Amish

Smoking tends to be more common among more conservative (ie, “plainer”, with more technological restrictions) Amish. For example, I was once visiting the North Carolina Swartzentruber Amish settlement (Swartzentruber Amish are among the very plainest groups). I was having a pretty long conversation with one of the Amish men I met there. And in the middle of the conversation, he started smoking a Backwoods brand, simple-style cigar. This is nothing unusual there.

Electronic cigarette lighter on a wooden dashboar
Cigarette lighter on an Amish buggy “dashboard”

In some communities, you might even see some youth taking a smoke break during church. An Amish church can be quite long, three hours, even up to four hours. Amish-born scholar John Hostetler notes that Amish in the more conservative communities are more likely to smoke cigars or pipes, seeing cigarettes as more “worldly” (Amish Society, p. 165). And this is not just among the youth, but among the adults, men in particular.

Amish against smoking

Certain Amish are adamantly against smoking and raising tobacco, such as the New Order Amish group, an affiliation known for promoting “clean living” among its members and youth, found in Holmes County, Ohio and a number of other places. Just like they reject alcohol use, they also frown on tobacco use.

They certainly aren’t the only Amish who don’t approve of smoking. But they are the best-known group which holds that belief across the board.

Box of safety matches called "The Pipe" with old design
The more traditional Amish who smoke tend to favor cigars and other forms of smoking over cigarettes

And like non-Amish people, some Amish will wish to quit smoking, and may struggle to do so. Those in that boat may take inspiration from others who have succeeded. On that note, the following anecdote was spotted in the February 2013 “Mexico Mennonite Aid Update” newsletter, related by Steve L. Yoder in a section entitled “A Deadly Weed”:

Very few can kick the habit as an Amish friend of mine did. In bygone years the local drug stores always had cigars and cigarettes in their store windows right by the sidewalk. He could not pass by there without going in for some cigars.

At some point he decided to quit. So the next time he came to such a window he stopped, looked in, and spoke to the cigars. He asked them, who is boss – you or I? I am!! He never smoked one after that.

Amish raising tobacco

So what about raising tobacco? A number of Amish, particularly those in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, do grow tobacco as a cash crop. This has been controversial even among Amish. There are Amish that speak against the idea of raising tobacco, saying that they shouldn’t be contributing to a vice habit that is bad for people’s health.

Why do those Amish who raise tobacco do it? For one, it’s a cash crop. Especially in a place like Lancaster County, farmland has become very expensive. The Amish need to generate a lot of income to be able to pay for those farms.

Ripening tobacco leaves with an Amish farmhouse and red barns in the background
Tobacco is an important cash crop for some Amish in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania

With the high prices of land, some Amish see tobacco as the best way of supplementing dairy farming in order to make farm loan payments. That’s one of the attractions of tobacco. And it’s something that’s been raised there for generations. It’s safe to say a majority of Amish reject tobacco farming, however, including some spin-off communities of Lancaster County (more on that below).

There is another, secondary appeal to raising tobacco. This is something that one of my Amish dairy farmer friends in Lancaster County talks about. He has long raised tobacco to supplement his farm income. He explains that there is actually a family aspect to tobacco which he really enjoys, especially during the harvest.

In the autumn, they have to process and sort through all the leaves. It’s very labor-intensive and requires a lot of hands. The children get involved and they spend quality hours together. He really enjoys that time with the family. It’s not the primary reason for Amish to raise tobacco, but that is one additional reason or justification you will hear.

Amish who reject raising tobacco

I mentioned some Amish who have come out against the idea of raising tobacco. To take one example, when Amish from Lancaster County started a new settlement in Parke County, Indiana, in the 1990s, that group decided to ban the raising of tobacco in the new settlement. That became part of the Ordnung (church rules & standards) there. That was something that was important for that group of Amish, reflecting the belief of at least a minority in their home community.

Lage white board barn with tobacco hung to dry
Tobacco drying in an Amish-owned barn in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania

The Amish & Smoking

So you will find tobacco being used in some Amish communities, and raised in some Amish communities. And there are Amish who smoke. In some Amish settlements and groups, it is even typical adult behavior among males. Smoking is not common overall among the Amish, however.

Related topics

What about alcohol? Do the Amish drink? Similar to smoking, there are different attitudes and customs among different Amish groups. Learn more on the Amish and alcohol.

Photo credit: Kristin Farron

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    1. Roberta

      One of my neighbors mentioned that she was surprised to see Amish smoking. I told her that I wasn’t surprised because the Amish around here seem to live very much the same way that my father’s family lived 100 years ago and many of them smoked.

    2. J T

      Amish Smoking Tobacco

      I’ve seen a few Amish men smoke. But last summer I went to a secluded Amish Farm auction out in the middle of no where. There, 70 percent of the boys (14 to 21, guessing about the age) were chain smoking and in front of their parents. That was in PA, somewhere between Lewisburg and Mifflinburg.

    3. George

      Amish Smoking

      My Cousin and I went to some Amish community a couple of years ago in Kentucky and I saw all kind of Amish men smoking and some were even dipping and I was so surprised when I saw them doing that, because I figured since they are more plain that they would be against smoking and dipping. Another thing that I saw that surprised me was that the younger Amish men were driving the fork lifts with regular fork lift tires on them. I say regular tires because one time when I was in Etheridge, Tennessee I saw some tractors being drove, but they had steel wheels.

    4. Amish Smoking

      For me whether your an Amish or not every people has the right to choose if you want to smoke or not. If you’re happy smoking? then do what makes you happy don’t let other people be the means or hindrance to your own happiness.