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New Report: Tobacco Use Impairs Military Readiness

July 20, 2009

ALBANY, N.Y. - "At ease!" Once upon a time, that generally-welcome military command was often followed by, "Smoke 'em if you got 'em!" But these days, the U.S. armed forces may be turning tobacco-free. Of the more than 71,000 New Yorkers in the U.S. military, about one-third smoke or chew. A new study by the federal Institute of Medicine shows not only that soldiers' health is in danger, but one of the report's co-authors, Dr. Ken Kizer, says tobacco use impairs military readiness.

"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."

The Department of Defense says it could save more than 800 million dollars a year in medical costs and lost productivity by forbidding military personnel to smoke or chew. 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.

Dr. 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 in that direction.

"It involves things like eliminating the sale, at discounted prices, of tobacco products at the PXs 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 began. Right now, Army and Air Force commissaries sell tobacco products, while Navy and Marine Corps locations do not.

Mark Scheerer, Public News Service - NY