The men and women in our military, for various understandable reasons, smoke quite a bit more than the general public. So our government has been launching campaigns of both persuasion and coercion to make our troops stop using tobacco.
Whatever you think of the controversy, you have to appreciate this quotation from a Marine: ” “We sleep in the dirt for this country. We get shot at for this country. But we can’t have a cigarette if we want to for this country, because that’s unhealthy.”
In 1985, all military smoking was at 47 percent. It’s dropped to 30 percent. However, as the March 14 memo states, “An estimated 175,000 current active duty service members . . . will die from smoking unless we can help them quit.”
Durbin pointed out that the rate of smoking among the military is 20 percent higher than the overall U.S. civilian rate and that service members’ use of smokeless tobacco has gone up to more than 400 percent higher than the U.S. average.
“One out of three members of the military who use tobacco today say they started after they enlisted,” Durbin added.
The last major military smoking study, requested by the Pentagon in 2007 and completed by the Institute of Medicine in 2009, found that “smoking rates among military personnel returning from Iraq and Afghanistan may be 50 percent higher than rates among nondeployed military personnel.”
The institute’s study said, “Current cigarette use in the military is more likely among men, those who are white, have less than a college education, are younger than 34 years old, and are enlisted versus officers.”
In 2005, smoking rates for 18-to-25-year-old military men was high at 42.2 percent, although it varied by service, with the Army and Marines being highest, and the Air Force the lowest.
In short, smoking is highest with those most likely to be involved in fighting on the ground. A 2008 study found that “smoking rates increased by 57 percent among those deployed and by 44 percent among those not deployed.”
Last March, when Stars and Stripes carried a story about Navy Secretary Ray Mabus considering a ban on all tobacco sales on ships and bases, the comments received previewed what could come if more actions are taken.
“THIS IS OUT OF CONTROL!!!!,” wrote one ex-Marine. “When I was sitting in a bunker in Vietnam at 0400, a cigarette gave me comfort and pleasure. OH!!!! It is not good to get lung cancer but a sucking chest wound is???”
Dempsey was more diplomatic: Because smoking is legal, taking more steps to halt it “is an issue for the broader Congress of the United States, not uniquely for the United States military.”
Rep. Duncan D. Hunter (R-Calif.), a Marine Reserve major with three combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, has already acted. He argued at one point: “We sleep in the dirt for this country. We get shot at for this country. But we can’t have a cigarette if we want to for this country, because that’s unhealthy.”