Navy Secretary Ray Mabus is being urged by a group of Democratic senators blaming wide availability for higher military smoking rates to ban tobacco sales at naval bases and aboard ships.
Both the Navy and Marine Corps are considering the move, as reported by Military Times. A March 14 Defense Department memo encouraged bans on sales and use of tobacco on bases, yet didn’t call for a specific policy adaptation. The Pentagon said it’s still reviewing the issue and has not arrived at any decisions yet.
“Structural reforms in how and where we allow tobacco purchases to be made, as well as the need to consider tobacco-free installations, are all matters that require our near-term attention,” stated the memo, signed by Jessica Wright, acting undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, and Dr. Jonathan Woodson, assistant secretary of defense for health affairs.
Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), Jack Reed (D-R.I.) and Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) told Mabus they hope the service will “move forward with this initiative which will renew emphasis on the health of our dedicated sailors and Marines as well as provide for increased combat readiness.”
“The high rate of tobacco use by active-duty personnel is not only harmful to their health, but also costs the federal government significantly in the longterm. While annual profits from all Department of Defense (DOD) authorized military tobacco sales are roughly $90 million, a DOD report from June 2009 estimated that the annual tobacco-related military health costs and lost productivity are about $1.9 billion, or 21 times greater than the annual sales. While smoking rates among active-duty military have decreased in the past few decades—similar to the trends that we are seeing in the civilian population—DOD should do more to lower the smoking rates among active-duty military,” the senators wrote in their letter.
“A 2008 DOD study found that smoking rates among all branches of the military was 30.6 percent, compared to 20.6 percent among adults in the general U.S. population. Additionally, 33 percent of surveyed active-duty personnel said that the availability of cigarettes at many places on installations made it easier to smoke. Wide availability could contribute to the fact that nearly half of all smokers surveyed had attempted to quit but were unsuccessful. Several factors purportedly contribute to high smoking rates such as stress relief and the desire to relax or calm down. The Department should ensure that adequate support is always available to personnel seeking to quit tobacco use, including the existing effort to offer tobacco cessation products and services.”
The senators applauded Mabus for recent efforts “to increase smoke-free areas on bases, eliminate smoking on submarines, and improve access to cessation services.”
“We urge you to do everything in your capacity to address this issue for our military men and women, including moving forward with the proposal to stop the sale of tobacco aboard all naval bases and ships.”