Pentagon to ban tobacco use?

posted at 5:18 pm on July 10, 2009 by Ed Morrissey

The iconic image of a soldier lighting up a smoke after a battle may go the way of draft cards.  USA Today reports that the Pentagon’s health experts are pushing for a ban on smoking in every branch of the service.  They cite the high cost of providing care for smoking-related ailments:

Pentagon health experts are urging Defense Secretary Robert Gates to ban the use of tobacco by troops and end its sale on military property, a change that could dramatically alter a culture intertwined with smoking.

Jack Smith, head of the Pentagon’s office of clinical and program policy, says he will recommend that Gates adopt proposals by a federal study that cites rising tobacco use and higher costs for the Pentagon and Department of Veterans Affairs as reasons for the ban.

The study by the Institute of Medicine, requested by the VA and Pentagon, calls for a phased-in ban over a period of years, perhaps up to 20. “We’ll certainly be taking that recommendation forward,” Smith says.

A tobacco ban would confront a military culture, the report says, in which “the image of the battle-weary soldier in fatigues and helmet, fighting for his country, has frequently included his lit cigarette.”

Ironically, as the article notes, the Pentagon subsidizes tobacco use on bases now by subsidizing the cost of cigarettes and other tobacco products.  That makes it less expensive to maintain the habit, and could have something to do with the fact that a higher percentage of active-duty military smoke than veterans or the civilian population of the US.  One quick method to reduce the use of tobacco would be to simply stop lowering the price artificially, but that would not stop it altogether. [See update below.]

Although this news will bring instant and justified reactions in either direction, it’s a complicated issue.  Smoking causes health issues that the VA has to spend a great deal of money treating later down the road.  They could eliminate some of that spending and perhaps apply the resources to other issues (or just save costs outright) if they stopped the smoking culture of the military entirely.  On the other hand, we ask these men and women to put their lives on the line to defend our nation and to bring liberty around the world.  Is it right to begrudge them the freedom to choose for themselves whether to use tobacco products, a right that the rest of us still have while we’re safe at home?

I’d fall on the side of letting the troops make that decision for themselves, but ending the subsidies.  What do you think?  Cast your vote in this poll:

Update: I’ve received a few e-mails rebutting the contention in USA Today that the military subsidizes tobacco on bases. What they don’t do is charge the state taxes that apply everywhere else, which eliminates the artificial price increases on the product. According to some e-mails, they may have even changed this policy; one e-mailer says that tobacco and other products are almost the same price as off-base prices.


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No ban on military personnel smoking.

No extra tax on soldiers smoking.

Come on, are you conservatives or what? Get this nanny state crap the hell out of here.

Edouard on July 12, 2009 at 4:03 PM

Bradky

Your argument is self-defeating.

“you are in combat and your partner can’t cut a 200 yard dash to save your behind because of their smoking

“long term effects of smoking tend to show up long after the military member has hung up the uniform for the last time

DSchoen on July 12, 2009 at 4:10 PM

Very deadly. Like getting shot at in combat. Yet still, with an all volunteer force, the government trusts the soldiers enough to make a decision for themselves regarding whether or not to join up.
You’d think they could also leave this “deadly” decision to the troops.
Tesson on July 11, 2009

Excellent point!

Just being in the Military has an explicit risk of death and injury.

“the government (and the American people, especially those that don’t volunteer) trusts the soldiers…. regarding whether or not to join up.

DSchoen on July 12, 2009 at 4:23 PM

The DoD should consider levying a health care premium against the basic pay of smoking soldiers as a cost sharing measure for their health care. This would maintain the freedom to choose (as they are fighting for), as well as support personal responsibility for the known health outcomes of the smoking habit. A move like this by the DoD would fundamentally shift the public health debate from one of entitlement, toward one of shared responsibility for unhealthy habits rather than using draconian measures to curb tobacco use.
Ted C,
If someone smokes their whole life, then gets medicare when they turn 65 (60?), aren’t they covered?
If the DoD tried something like that, then you’d have the military members getting cigarettes off base and smoking off base. What’s more, how about the dependents? How about those military members who drink alcohol or buy fatty foods?

There are already rules on the books in some bases. For example, Air Force personnel in technical training can NOT smoke while in uniform, and on most training bases, they cannot smoke at all on the base. I saw this at the last training base I was assigned to. Airmen would walk a mile or more to the nearest gate to smoke a couple cigs (in civilian clothes, of course) and then walk back. So they’re getting some exercise at least!

mjtyson on July 12, 2009 at 3:18 PM

Why yes there mjtyson, they WOULD do that of course. What part of the personal responsibility argument didn’t you catch? I do not support a ban on smoking in the military. I do support treating service members as adults (which they are) and allowing them the freedom to continue to smoke, however, they need to share in the cost of that. The research strongly suggests it is unhealthy and leads to poor health outcomes. Moreover, it impacts military readiness.

I am a military health care provider. I treat smokers. They rarely improve to 100%. I treat nonsmokers, they routinely get a lot better. Evidence suggests that smoking may have something to do with that.

I support personal responsibility in health care maintenance. Military health care should not be run as nanny state care in every way. Service members are adults, and YOU the taxpayer, shouldn’t have to fund a)the smokes, b)the smoke breaks and c)the health costs. So you see, I’m looking out for everyone when I take the hit for continuing to treat smokers (even though medical care successes are blunted); and suggest they maintain their right to smoke.

The military fights for freedom; they need to maintain some of it. You, the taxpayer, needs to recognize that simply having someone in uniform shouldn’t be a license to act in any way they want simply because the medical care is “free.”

looking out for you
–a nonsmoking service member and health care provider.

ted c on July 12, 2009 at 6:20 PM

Start charging smokers more for their care when you charge gays more for aids, or anyone more for STDs, or alcoholics for their treatment.

Jeff from WI on July 12, 2009 at 6:35 PM

Start charging smokers more for their care when you charge gays more for aids, or anyone more for STDs, or alcoholics for their treatment.

Jeff from WI on July 12, 2009 at 6:35 PM

We charge 19 year olds a helluva lot of car insurance when they buy 5.0 Ford Mustangs or motorcycles that’ll do 180+mph. Shouldn’t we do something analogous to that with health care insurance? Risky and unhealthy behavior ought to beget higher premiums, particularly for preventable conditions like tobacco use. Moreover, safe drivers get lower premiums. Many of the top diseases are preventable and when people begin to take aggressive and healthy steps toward actually doing that, then their health care rates should be lowered as their risk is lowered.

ted c on July 12, 2009 at 7:10 PM

Man … I just really don’t understand the Conservatives on this board who have no military experience … and yet they still want to tell people who defend their freedom how to live their lives.

Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, and Marines give up a lot of the rights that we civilians take for granted. There’s no freedom of speech in the military. There’s really no freedom of association. You can’t even quit the job without getting into trouble.

It takes a special kind of patriot to sign up for that kind of life – the long family separations, and the possibility of being killed in the process.

And yet there are some “haughty” Conservatives who’ve never donned a uniform that think they have the right to pile more hardship on our servicemembers by insisting we have the right to tell them the kind of choices they can make?

Well – you aren’t a Conservative if that’s your view. Conservatives believe in personal choice – especially for those that keep this nation free. If anything – they should tell us how to live – how about that?

It’s been entertaining though reading through all this rationalization. And pathetic.

HondaV65 on July 12, 2009 at 7:17 PM

They already banned chewing tobacco in TRADOC. It’s a miracle anybody attempts Ranger School without it.

Newsflash: this’ll never happen. I don’t smoke cigarettes OR dip – which makes me a rarity in the infantry – but even I know that you’d have open rebellion in the ranks if you tried this one. Soldiers would ignore it, and (smart) officers wouldn’t try to enforce it.

Think repealing DADT would drive people out of the military? Banning tobacco would be 10 times worse.

We’ve got few enough freedoms and enough hardships. Leave the few vices we’re allowed alone, please. Go back to something important, like banning Playboy in the PX.

Professor Blather on July 12, 2009 at 7:51 PM

They already banned chewing tobacco in TRADOC. It’s a miracle anybody attempts Ranger School without it.

Newsflash: this’ll never happen. I don’t smoke cigarettes OR dip – which makes me a rarity in the infantry – but even I know that you’d have open rebellion in the ranks if you tried this one. Soldiers would ignore it, and (smart) officers wouldn’t try to enforce it.

We’ve got few enough freedoms and enough hardships. Leave the few vices we’re allowed alone, please. Go back to something important, like banning Playboy in the PX.

Professor Blather on July 12, 2009 at 7:51 PM

I agree. The boys wouldn’t follow it. A black market would emerge and maintain the status quo. I hate that my soldiers smoke and loathe the time they spend away on smoke breaks. However, the few individual freedoms the young soldiers have–smoking, drinking, tattoos and civilian clothes shouldn’t be infringed upon. Soldiers can understand the health risks of tobacco and it is prudent that the military should protect military readiness insofar as tobacco is concerned. Soldiers have a right to smoke and the military has a right and responsibility to have them share in their healthcare as a result of the readiness issues that it must suffer because of it.

–OEF x 4, OIF x 2
nonsmoker

ted c on July 12, 2009 at 8:00 PM

i KNOW i ALWAYS FEEL LIKE CHEWING SOME GUM AFTER A LONG BLOODY FIREFIGHT. ITS JUST HEALTHIER AFTER MASTICATING THE NATIVES.

lasertex on July 12, 2009 at 8:26 PM

Well – you aren’t a Conservative if that’s your view. Conservatives believe in personal choice – especially for those that keep this nation free. If anything – they should tell us how to live – how about that?

It’s been entertaining though reading through all this rationalization. And pathetic.

HondaV65 on July 12, 2009 at 7:17 PM

You are 100% correct of course.

Jeff from WI on July 12, 2009 at 10:08 PM

Whether you smoke or not one thing is guarenteed. You will die. Maybe sooner, maybe later, so enjoy the little things in life that make you happy.

tbear44 on July 13, 2009 at 12:58 AM

That’s the one thing I want, a nervous, anxious, young man going through withdrawals defending my country…what could go wrong?

right2bright on July 13, 2009 at 7:01 AM

People would be surprised if they knew the number of professional athletes that smoke.

Smoking effects performance, but not as much as overweight, or poor general conditioning.

A good example of a professional working day and night, constantly on the front line, always putting his best effort forward, and smoking doesn’t seem to effect his rational thought…is our president, Obama…wait, that was a mistake.

right2bright on July 13, 2009 at 7:07 AM

What anti-smoking NAZIS always say is you’ll lose 10 years of your life if you smoke.What they don’t tell you is that it’s the worst 10 years. Sitting alone in a dirty diaper in a nursing home, waiting to die.

Jeff from WI on July 13, 2009 at 7:08 AM

Ted C,
Like you, I am a military member. So I only speak from 23+ years of experience, many assignments and deployments.

Now, the DoD will never make active duty military subsidize their health care. If that happened, a few things would result that the DoD doesn’t want. 1) the smokers would complain that those who drink alcohol and/or eat crappy, fatty foods don’t have to pay for some of their health care (many of us know smokers who do well or even ace the PT test…and that would be one of the smokers’ complaints). 2) Smokers having to pay for some of their health care costs would snowball to the active duty getting to choose their health care provider…and I don’t know many guys who would choose their base military hobby shop as their health care provider.

It is already within the commander’s purview to limit or eliminate smoke breaks during duty hours. If you or anyone have any complaints about too many smoke breaks, that’s easy to deal with.

Again, the taxpayer isn’t subsidizing the smokes. The military pays the federal tax on smokes, gas, alcohol. Their have already been suits against the military for not charging sales tax at BXs and PXs and that suit went nowhere. BECAUSE with Walmarts and Targets and smart shopping, any military member can find better deals off-base (or online…and I don’t pay tax when I buy from amazon!)

Look, we already subsidize our own health care in two ways: 1) fewer and fewer health care providers (like you!) even take the crappy Tricare HMO that we have (and I thank you for taking it…seriously), so when we have to search high and low for an off-base provider to care for our kids and spouses (because on base “hospitals” are pretty much a thing of the past), have to deal with driving to this doctor WHEN we can get an appointment…we’re subsidizing our own healthcare and that of our dependents; 2) we don’t get free lifetime healthcare anymore when we retire, so we ARE subsidizing our own healthcare.

mjtyson on July 13, 2009 at 7:45 AM

I guess the words common sense, are just letters put close together, no meaning as words anymore. This reminds me of the Liquer Laws. At eighteen you can vote you can serve your Country in war , but you can`t walk in a bar and have a beer unless your Mama hands it to you. The inmates are running the Asylum.

LSUMama on July 13, 2009 at 8:11 AM

LSUMama on July 13, 2009 at 8:11 AM

Yeah, we shouldn’t have an age requirement for alcohol.

Libertarian Joseph on July 13, 2009 at 8:24 AM

What anti-smoking NAZIS always say is you’ll lose 10 years of your life if you smoke.What they don’t tell you is that it’s the worst 10 years. Sitting alone in a dirty diaper in a nursing home, waiting to die.

Jeff from WI on July 13, 2009 at 7:08 AM

Same with overweight people, probably a larger killer. So we should regulate what is eaten?

but you can`t walk in a bar and have a beer unless your Mama hands it to you. The inmates are running the Asylum.

LSUMama on July 13, 2009 at 8:11 AM

Because 18′s hang out with 16′s, so you end up with underage drinking…however, 18′s can recommend a 16 year old to join and fight along with them…they will be refused.
Expand your thinking…

right2bright on July 13, 2009 at 9:38 AM

What anti-smoking NAZIS always say is you’ll lose 10 years of your life if you smoke.What they don’t tell you is that it’s the worst 10 years. Sitting alone in a dirty diaper in a nursing home, waiting to die.

Jeff from WI on July 13, 2009 at 7:08 AM

Same with overweight people, probably a larger killer. So we should regulate what is eaten?

right2bright on July 13, 2009 at 9:38 AM

I believe that is being done as we speak.

Jeff from WI on July 13, 2009 at 9:40 AM

I believe that is being done as we speak.

Jeff from WI on July 13, 2009 at 9:40 AM

I can go to MacDonald’s anytime I want, and eat there as often as I want…and a mother can basically do the same with their children.
If you think regulating cigarettes is the same, you are just trying to start a stupid argument.
Autos contribute more to death of people under 30 then cigarettes…ban cars?

right2bright on July 13, 2009 at 10:01 AM

believe that is being done as we speak.

Jeff from WI on July 13, 2009 at 9:40 AM

I can go to MacDonald’s anytime I want, and eat there as often as I want…and a mother can basically do the same with their children.
If you think regulating cigarettes is the same, you are just trying to start a stupid argument.
Autos contribute more to death of people under 30 then cigarettes…ban cars?

right2bright on July 13, 2009 at 10:01 AM

If you think the coming Obama Care isn’t out to regulate EVERY part of your life, including penalties for smoking, ideal weight and % of fat to body mass, you’re kidding yourself. What a person can eat WILL be regulated. It’s only time.

Jeff from WI on July 13, 2009 at 10:13 AM

Lets start with the Commander In Chief. (or is that the TOTUS?)

bbordwell on July 13, 2009 at 12:43 PM

Lets start with the Commander In Chief. (or is that the TOTUS?)

bbordwell on July 13, 2009 at 12:43 PM

Ummm. that would be “leadership by example…”

that’s not in the statist liberal lexicon.

The current party line is, “Do as I say, not as I do”
didn’t you get the memo?

back to reeducation camp with you!

ted c on July 13, 2009 at 1:03 PM

Caption: “Go get me a beer, kid.”

mojo on July 13, 2009 at 1:35 PM

Cigarettes, Lucky Strikes I believe, used to be part of the rations in World War II. All soldiers smoked in WWII. How the hell did they beat the Nazis?

Special K on July 13, 2009 at 1:56 PM

Time to switch to Red Bull rations.

NickelAndDime on July 13, 2009 at 4:22 PM

Cigarettes, Lucky Strikes I believe, used to be part of the rations in World War II. All soldiers smoked in WWII. How the hell did they beat the Nazis?

Special K on July 13, 2009 at 1:56 PM

Forget that America, todays America lacks testosterone.

Jeff from WI on July 13, 2009 at 4:33 PM

These soldiers are getting shot at and could be killed at any moment.
Yeah, but let’s sweat the small stuff.

Geronimo on July 13, 2009 at 4:56 PM

Risky and unhealthy behavior ought to beget higher premiums, particularly for preventable conditions like tobacco use. Moreover, safe drivers get lower premiums. Many of the top diseases are preventable and when people begin to take aggressive and healthy steps toward actually doing that, then their health care rates should be lowered as their risk is lowered.

ted c on July 12, 2009 at 7:10 PM

You … really don’t want to live in that world.

Who defines “risky” behavior??

1. Perhaps if you’re a member of the NRA you should be charged higher health premiums because you shoot firearms occasionally and that carries some “risk”.

2. Perhaps if you’re a hunter … you should be charged too? Hunters sometimes get shot accidentally.

3. What if you drive 100 miles to work everyday? Aren’t you more likely to have an accident than your neighbor that lives only 5 miles from his work?

4. What if you’re a businessman – and commute often on airlines? Hey – you have a higher risk of getting killed in a crash.

5. Certainly, if you enjoy … Scuba Diving, Surfing, Wind Surfing, Sky Diving, Hang Gliding, and other sports … like SOFTBALL – these are hazardous sports – you should be charged more. Yeah – I just added softball because command softball games are a major source of injury in the armed forces – I know this, because I’m a retired Master Chief. Something about old men and beer, and sliding around and trying to catch balls that makes this a very hazardous proposition.

Yeah – let’s go down this road people.

Or … how about not …

And just let the GI’s make their own decisions about THEIR health. The military already has semi-annual (or more often) physical readiness tests. These tests are supposed to demonstrate the minimum acceptable level of fitness required by a Soldier, Sailor, Airman, or Marine. When the military wants the standards raised – they raise them. If you can meet the standards – even if you smoke – then good for you. Most servicemembers know when it’s time to quit. When I was Navy – I smoked until it became painful for me to pass these tests – then I quit – problem solved. If you don’t pass the tests – you get kicked out.

We have the BEST military in the world – let’s not let a few who have never served in uniform muck it up – even if they “claim” to be Conservatives.

HondaV65 on July 13, 2009 at 5:33 PM

HondaV65,
It is funny you bringing up “risky behavior” (#5 in your excellent list). Already in the Air Force (unsure about the other services), if you are under 26 and intend on leaving the immediate area over the weekend, you have to fill out a “nanny” form: basically telling, in written form, where you’re going and how to get in contact with you. But, apparently, the minute you turn 26, you’re considered mature enough to not need to do that. Doesn’t matter if you are a commissioned officer or an enlisted guy. Doesn’t matter if you’re a fast-burner E-6 at 25 years old or you’re an E-1 who just joined the military. You’re filling out the report.
ALSO with high risk behavior. If you intend on doing any of the activities you mentioned (except Softball, but including rock climbing and some others like skiing) then you’ve got to fill out a form AFTER speaking with your commander/1st Sgt about the risks.

Interestingly, you don’t have to fill out any of these forms before going out on a convoy in Iraq….

mjtyson on July 13, 2009 at 5:49 PM

I figured out what bothers me about the picture.It’s not that the soldier is lighting up in front of the kid, it’s that stuipid “Fritz” helmet that I hate so much.

Jeff from WI on July 14, 2009 at 9:48 AM

We have the BEST military in the world – let’s not let a few who have never served in uniform muck it up – even if they “claim” to be Conservatives.

HondaV65 on July 13, 2009 at 5:33 PM

Look, Master Chief. With all due respect–I’ve got 21 years in uniform. Jumped from planes and helped fight the war–from the shore–not the ship–so backup. I know your type, you know everything, just ask ya right.

pound sand–you probably retired once your fat hands couldn’t find a pair of khakis that fit.

ted c on July 14, 2009 at 1:21 PM

If the government can support Gay people, then they should support smokers that are defending our country.

workingforpigs on July 14, 2009 at 1:45 PM

Look, Master Chief. With all due respect–I’ve got 21 years in uniform. Jumped from planes and helped fight the war–from the shore–not the ship–so backup. I know your type, you know everything, just ask ya right.

pound sand–you probably retired once your fat hands couldn’t find a pair of khakis that fit.

ted c on July 14, 2009 at 1:21 PM

21 years and you never touched ground in combat? You brave, brave individual, all that time banging chicks in the barracks and getting tore up on the weekends must have sucked. I have 5 years in uniform, and DID see combat – many times. I smoked all 5 years of that (minus the 9 weeks in basic. I snuck out of the barracks to go smoke in the treeline in AIT). I never failed a single PT test. In fact, I never got below a 300 on ANY PT test, to include post-injury recovery PT tests. Nor did any soldier that smoked that was underneath me.

You see, sweetheart garrison commando, I’m everything that you never could be.

What I did conclude is that soldiers are less likely to obey orders when command placed unnecessary restrictions upon the soldiers that contributed absolutely nothing to team unity or good order and discipline.

It doesn’t make much sense to tell someone that they can’t do something that has the possibility to kill them, when you send them out to do a job that has the possibility to kill them.

leetpriest on July 14, 2009 at 4:50 PM

21 years and you never touched ground in combat? You brave, brave individual, all that time banging chicks in the barracks and getting tore up on the weekends must have sucked. I have 5 years in uniform, and DID see combat – many times. I smoked all 5 years of that (minus the 9 weeks in basic. I snuck out of the barracks to go smoke in the treeline in AIT). I never failed a single PT test. In fact, I never got below a 300 on ANY PT test, to include post-injury recovery PT tests. Nor did any soldier that smoked that was underneath me.

You see, sweetheart garrison commando, I’m everything that you never could be.

What I did conclude is that soldiers are less likely to obey orders when command placed unnecessary restrictions upon the soldiers that contributed absolutely nothing to team unity or good order and discipline.

It doesn’t make much sense to tell someone that they can’t do something that has the possibility to kill them, when you send them out to do a job that has the possibility to kill them.

leetpriest on July 14, 2009 at 4:50 PM

5 combat tours here. Get with the program

ted c on July 14, 2009 at 5:03 PM

Maybe, you know, give an incentive to stop/not smoke. Every body wins?

scrubbiedude on July 14, 2009 at 5:09 PM

5 combat tours here. Get with the program

ted c on July 14, 2009 at 5:03 PM

People smoke, get with the program.

leetpriest on July 14, 2009 at 11:33 PM

To be fair, unless I’m mistake or the rules have changed, those in the military can drink.

I had a friend who joined right after high school who was able to buy beer, at least on the base. Not sure if that worked anywhere else.

No. It used to be that military bases in southern California would allow all those 18 and over to drink, in order to discourage them from going across the border into Tijuana and getting themselves in trouble. This ended in March or April of 1996 under the Klintoon Administration (by order of his SecDef). I remember this clearly, as at the time I was at School of Infantry in Camp Pendleton. The last Friday night before the ban was an absolute zoo at the E Club.

quikstrike98 on July 15, 2009 at 10:07 AM

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