Question: My mother secretly smokes, but I discovered it. Am I allowed to throw out her cigarettes behind her back, or is it disrespectful? I want to protect her, and cigarettes are very dangerous.
Answer: Thank you for your question. I’m so sorry to hear that you have been put in the difficult position of protecting your mother from self-inflicted harm! This must be very difficult for you.
There is no question that one must do everything possible from preventing someone from harming themselves, even to steal from them. For example, if you know that someone has a gun and intends to shoot themselves (or others, of course!) it is a Mitzvah (commandment) to steal the gun from them to prevent them from doing so. However, if someone intends to do something which is risky, but won’t necessarily result in harm, it is not allowed. So if your mother plans on going sky diving, and you think it’s too dangerous for her, you would not allowed to steal her car to prevent her from going.
The question is how dangerous and risky smoking is for her. This really depends on how often she is smoking, is she in ill health, and a number of other factors. The best thing would be to approach her about it, or have an adult whom she respects approach her about it, and see if she is receptive to the idea of quitting. If not, you then need to make a decision based on common sense whether her habit is in the “inflicting harm” category, or “high risk” category, and act accordingly.
Take care, and much success!
Rabbi Aaron Tendler