End of smoking on bases is urged

Fred Zamora remembers a much different time in the military -- an era when soldiers were given a pack of cigarettes with their food.

 

"It was part of your meal," he said. "It came in a little package, four in each package. Camel used to be the brand."

These days Mr. Zamora, a veteran of the Korean and Vietnam wars and the commander of American Post 205 in Augusta, said some at his post still smoke but "the majority of them have stopped."

As someone who never took up the habit, Mr. Zamora said he is glad to hear about a recent Institute of Medicine Committee study that recommended eliminating tobacco use among veterans and current service members.

"We can save thousands of lives if they stop smoking," he said. "I've seen some of my friends that have gone down the drain because of smoking."

The plan, if adopted by Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, would no longer allow tobacco use on military bases or institutions and would forbid the sale of tobacco at military bases.

Marla Jones, a spokeswoman for Fort Gordon, said The Post Exchange and the Commissary sell cigarettes. However, there already are some restrictions on smoking at the post.

"All buildings are smoke-free, and some of the trainees are prohibited from smoking for a short period of time (approximately two weeks) when they first arrive here for training," she wrote in an e-mail. "If the trainees pass all tests and meet all the military requirements, they are allowed to smoke only in designated areas."

She also said that Eisenhower Army Medical Center has had smoking cessation programs for several years.

The Institute of Medicine Committee study, issued in June and commissioned by the Pentagon and Department of Veterans Affairs, supports such programs but also calls for greater efforts to curb smoking among service members and veterans.

"The committee recommends that DOD (the Department of Defense) establish a time line to eliminate all tobacco use on military installations to protect the health of all military personnel, civilian employees, family members, and visitors," the study states. "The committee finds that achieving a tobacco-free military begins by closing the pipeline of new tobacco users entering the military and by promoting cessation programs to ensure abstinence."

The study says that tobacco use can impair a soldier's readiness and result in "enormous health and financial costs." It says smoking should be treated the same as alcohol abuse or poor physical fitness.

Until the sale of tobacco in military commissaries and exchanges is stopped, it says, "DOD should at the very least sell tobacco products at prices equal to those in local civilian retail stores."

With regard to veterans, the study supports cessation programs and a smoke-free policy at VA health care facilities.

"But federal legislation that requires VA medical facilities to establish designated smoking areas has precluded VA from going entirely smoke-free," according to the study, which finds that the military should work with elected officials to have such legislation repealed.

Cynthia Smith, a DOD spokeswoman, said her department has long advocated tobacco control and recently developed a "Quit Tobacco-Make Everyone Proud" campaign, which can be accessed at www.ucanquit2.org.

"The department supports the goal of a tobacco-free military," she said. "However, achieving that goal will in part depend on coincident reductions of tobacco use in the civilian population.

"We look forward to using the committee's findings and recommendations as we address this challenging health and readiness issue."

Reach Preston Sparks at (803) 648-1395, ext. 110, or preston.sparks@augustachronicle.com.

BY THE NUMBERS

LESS THAN 20: Percentage of Americans using tobacco

30: Percentage of active-duty military personnel using tobacco

22: Percentage of veterans using tobacco

50: Percentage of military personnel returning from Iraq and Afghanistan who smoke, as opposed to nondeployed military

$1.6 BILLION: Amount the Department of Defense spends each year on tobacco-related medical care, increased hospitalizations and lost work days

Source: Institute of Medicine Committee

 

MILITARY SMOKING NUMBERS

Fewer than one in five, or less than 20 percent: Americans using tobacco

30: percentage of active-duty military personnel using tobacco

22: percentage of veterans using tobacco

50 percent higher: the smoking rate among military personnel returning from Iraq and Afghanistan as opposed to non-deployed military

$1.6 billion: amount the Department of Defense spends each year on tobacco-related medical care, increased hospitalizations and lost work days

Source: Institute of Medicine Committee

 

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