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New Report: Tobacco Use Impairs Military Readiness

July 15, 2009

LANSING, Mich. - The days when American soldiers got cigarettes with their food rations are long gone, but the military still has higher smoking rates than the general public. More than 33,000 Michiganders are serving in the U.S. military, and about a third of them use tobacco - for now, at least.

A new report by the federal Institute of Medicine lends support to the idea of a tobacco-free military, citing the huge financial burden smokers have become to the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs.

The Department of Defense says it could save more than 800 million dollars a year in medical costs and lost productivity by not allowing soldiers to smoke or chew, and the new study cites other potential benefits of such a ban. The Institute of Medicine says tobacco use impairs military readiness as well as harming soldiers' health.

Doctor Ken Kizer, who is one of the report authors, points out some of the disadvantages.

"Tobacco has adverse effects on attention, on night vision; it increases the likelihood of motor vehicle accidents; if you happen to get injured, wounds don't heal as well among those who smoke."

Doctor Kizer says a smoking ban would take up to 20 years to fully implement, but the report includes a number of recommendations for getting started.

"These are things like eliminating the sale, at discounted prices, of tobacco products at the PX's and commissaries, and making the military work site tobacco-free."

The report says 32 percent of active-duty personnel and 22 percent of veterans are smokers, and rates among active-duty soldiers have increased since the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan got started. Right now, Army and Air Force commissaries sell tobacco products, while Navy and Marine Corps locations do not.

Critics of a possible ban point out that the profits from tobacco sales help the military pay for recreation and family programs on the bases.

Copies of the report, 'Combating Tobacco Use in Military and Veteran Populations,' are available from the National Academies Press

Glen Gardner, Public News Service - MI