A government report recommends that the military set a timeline to stamp out tobacco on military bases.
The Institute of Medicine, in a study prepared for the Pentagon, suggests the military:
- Stop selling tobacco products in military commissaries and exchanges or, at least, not sell tobacco at a discount.
- Treat tobacco use in the same way as other health-related behaviors, such as alcohol abuse and poor physical fitness, which impair military readiness.
- Prohibit tobacco use anywhere on military installations.
The report, "Combating Tobacco in Military and Veteran Populations," said taxpayers coughed up more than $1.6 billion per year on military personnel's tobacco-related medical care, increased hospitalizations and lost days of work. In 2008, the Department of Veterans Affairs spent more than $5 billion to treat veterans with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, which is strongly associated with tobacco use, the report said.
Nowadays, tobacco use on military bases is limited to places 50 feet from a building. Fort Bragg and Pope Air Force Base offer tobacco-cessation programs. In December 2002, Fort Bragg complied with a presidential mandate for all military recreational centers to go smoke free or limit smoking to designated, separately ventilated areas.
"I hope they don't get carried away with it," said Bruce MacKay, 59, a Navy veteran of the Vietnam War.
"There's a place for everything." MacKay said. "One thing will lead to another. Too much interfering with your life. If you stop tobacco altogether, it's going to be like trying to stop booze. You aren't going to be able to do it."
MacKay was one of several military veterans who stopped by Tobacco Road Outlet at Reilly and Cliffdale roads Monday afternoon for tobacco products.
The suggestions could force soldiers to drive off post to smoke a cigarette, someone said. A ban on on-post sales could benefit off-post tobacco shops, someone else added. If you didn't smoke in the 1970s, you couldn't take a break, another veteran observed.
"Most people start smoking in their early teenage years," said Karen Goepfrich, a registered nurse and program manager for tobacco cessation on Fort Bragg. "You can't really blame the Army on getting people started smoking like they used to. But because of the high-tempo environment, the stress, the long hours, it makes it harder for them to quit."
Fewer than one in five Americans uses tobacco, but more than 30 percent of active-duty military personnel and about 22 percent of veterans use tobacco, the report said.
"Of greater concern, the rate of tobacco use in the military has increased since 1998, threatening to reverse the steady decline of the last several decades," the report said. "Furthermore, smoking rates among military personnel returning from Iraq and Afghanistan may be 50 percent higher than rates among nondeployed military personnel."
Goepfrich said stress management is one of the reasons for tobacco use in the military, especially overseas.
"It's also the downtime," she said. "You're going from being on the go, running 10 miles an hour, high adrenaline, to now it's time to rest. Unless they have a plan of what to do with their downtime, a lot of them will dip."Military editor Henry Cuningham can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 486-3585.