Sunday, August 16, 2009

Pentagon Says No to Ban on War Zone Smoking Despite Study

Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell says troops already are under enough stress and making enough sacrifices from fighting the two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The Pentagon says it won't ban smoking by troops in war zones, despite a recent study recommending a tobacco-free military.

Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell says troops already are under enough stress and making enough sacrifices in fighting the two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. And he says Defense Secretary Robert Gates doesn't want to do add to that stress by taking away one of the few outlets they have to relieve it.

But Morrell says Gates will look at the study to see what other things can be done to move toward a goal of a tobacco-free force.

An advocacy group, however, is strongly condemning the push by Pentagon health experts to ban the use of tobacco by troops and end sales of tobacco products on military property. Brian Wise, executive director of Military Families United, decried even the discussion of such a ban.

"With all the issues facing our military today and the risks our troops take to protect our freedom, banning smoking should not even be on the radar screen," Wise said in a written statement Wednesday.

"Nobody doubts the effects of smoking, but it is not an illegal substance and should not be banned," he said. "Our troops make enough sacrifices to serve our nation. They give up many of the freedoms civilians enjoy already without being told they cannot partake in yet another otherwise legal activity. Perhaps more than anything, smoking in the field is more about comfort and coping with an often hostile environment."

Jack Smith, head of the Pentagon's office of clinical and program policy, told USA Today last week that he will advise Gates to adopt proposals by a federal study that cites rising tobacco use and higher costs for the Pentagon and the Department of Veterans Affairs as reasons for the ban.

The study by the Institute of Medicine calls for a phased-in ban over a period of up to 20 years.

"We'll certainly be taking that recommendation forward," Smith told the newspaper.

The VA and the Pentagon requested the study, which found that troops worn out by repeated deployments often rely on cigarettes as a "stress reliever." The study also found that tobacco use in the military increased after the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan began.

Tobacco use costs the Pentagon $846 million a year in medical care and lost productivity, according to the study, which was released last month and used older data. The Department of Veterans Affairs spends up to $6 billion in treatments for tobacco-related illnesses, the study found.

The study recommends requiring new officers and enlisted personnel to be tobacco-free, eliminating tobacco use on military installations, ships and aircraft, expanding treatment programs and eliminating the sale of tobacco on military property.

"Any tobacco use while in uniform should be prohibited," the study said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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