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A Smoke-Free Military?

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Updated July 14, 2009

The Institute of Medicine has released a report urging the Department of Defense to announce a mandatory date when smoking will no longer be allowed in the military. The report also urges DOD officials to immediately cease selling tobacco products on military installations.

The Department of Defense has long been engaged in a project to reduce smoking in the military. In fact, 51 percent of military personnel smoked in 1980, and that number decreased to less than 30 percent by 1998. However, from 1998 to 2005 (the latest year DOD conducted a study), the rate creeped up again to more than 32 percent. Among the services (as of 2005), 32% of Soldiers report that they smoke, 32.4% of Sailors, 23.3% of Air Force personnel, and 36.3% of Marines.

For the past several years, smoking by recruits has not been allowed in the basic training of any of the service branches. Some services (such as the Air Force) go so far as not allowing smoking by new recruits in tech school (job training). Even so, a surprising number of troops reported that they began smoking after they joined the military. 36.5% of Army smokers say they started after they joined, 36.3% of Navy smokers, 39% of Air Force smokers, and 40.5% of Marine smokers.

According to the report, the military medical system spent approximately $564 million on tobacco-related medical treatments in 2006. The Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) says they spent $5 billion to treat smoking-related emphysema among veterans in 2008. Additionally, the report states that studies show that military smokers are more likely to drop out of the service before fulfilling their enlistment periods, and they also have problems with night vision, and miss more work than non-smokers. Also, the study shows, smokers bleed more heavily after injury or surgery, heal more slowly, and have a higher risk of infection. All of these factors, of course, are of concern to the Department of Defense.

The DOD has a stated policy of wanting a smoke-free military, but they have set no specific date. According to a Pentagon spokesperson, "The evidence is overwhelming that tobacco use harms military readiness and adversely impacts the health of military members, retirees, and their families. The department supports the goal of a tobacco­ free military, and believes it is achievable."

What do you think? Should the US Military be smoke-free?

Readers Respond: Should the Military Ban Smoking?

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