FT. LEWIS, Wash. - The days when American soldiers got cigarettes with
their food rations are long gone, but the military has higher smoking
rates than the general public. A new report by the federal Institute of
Medicine lends support to the idea of a tobacco-free military, citing
the huge financial burden smokers have become to the departments of
Defense and Veterans Affairs.
More than 65,000 Washington residents are in the U.S. military, and
about one-third of them use tobacco - at least, for now. The Department
of Defense says it could save more than $800 million a year in medical
costs and lost productivity by not allowing soldiers to smoke or chew.
According to the federal Institute of Medicine report, tobacco use
impairs military readiness and harms soldiers' health. Institute
physician Ken Kizer is one of the report authors.
"Tobacco has adverse effects on attention and on night vision; it
increases the likelihood of motor vehicle accidents; and if you happen
to get injured, wounds don't heal as well among those who smoke."
The report says 32 percent of active-duty personnel and 22 percent of
veterans are smokers, adding that rates among active-duty soldiers have
increased since the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Currently, Army and
Air Force commissaries sell tobacco products but Navy and Marine Corps
locations do not. Critics of a possible ban point out that the profits
from tobacco sales help pay for recreation and family programs on
Kizer notes that a smoking ban would take up to 20 years to fully
implement. At least the report includes a number of recommendations to
get started, he says.
"We could begin by eliminating the sale, at discounted prices, of
tobacco products at the commissaries, and by making the military
The report, "Combating Tobacco Use in Military and Veteran
Populations," is available from National Academies Press by calling
(202)334-3313 or 1-800-624-6242, or online at www.nap.edu