Department of Defense Trying to Reduce Smoking


The Department of Defense (DoD) is making a concerted effort to reduce smoking among its members, and the Defense Advisory Committee will propose two options to Defense Secretary Ashton Carter: raise the price of tobacco on military bases and create more tobacco-free zones on the bases.

Last June, the committee was formed to explore avenues for a smoking reduction. In March 2014, a DoD memo signed by Jessica Wright, then-undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, and Dr. Jonathan Woodson, assistant secretary of defense for health affairs, urged the department to address the issue, writing, “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.”

According to the American Lung Association, 30.5% of active-duty military personnel smoked in 2008; the highest rate was in the Marines, where 30.8% smoked. The Army came next, with 26.7% smoking, followed by the Navy, with 24.4%. In the Coast Guard, 19.9% smoked, and 16.6% of the Air force smoked.

Medical expenses and lost time triggered by smoking cost the department an estimated $1.6 billion a year; it is estimated 175,000 current active-duty smokers will die.

Although smoking is not permitted in workplaces on military installations and has not been permitted since the mid 1990’s, Defense spokeswoman Laura Seal said the problem of second-hand smoke made the idea of expanding smoke-free zones more urgent. Air Force Col. (Dr.) John Oh, chief of health promotion for the Air Force Medical Support Agency, added that children could be adversely affected by second-hand smoke.

Seal revealed that the price of tobacco might match the average price off bases, as a new law requires prices on bases to be no lower than the price elsewhere. The price could rise on the bases, though. In 1985, Congress tried to raise commissary cigarette prices to equal those in civilian areas.

Last month, the Air Force increased the areas where tobacco use was forbidden, barring smoking in recreation facilities and vehicles on medical campuses.

The armed services are also considering the dispersal of information citing the hazards of smoking and tobacco-cessation products more easily available, according to Oh.

Legislators fought to prevent DoD from barring tobacco sales on bases; the 2015 National Defense Authorization Act bars DoD from banning tobacco sales in military retail stores as long as the tobacco is legal.