Defense Authorization Bill Takes One… | Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids
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Defense Authorization Bill Takes One Step Forward, One Step Back Toward Reducing High Rates of Tobacco Use in the Military

Statement of Matthew L. Myers, President, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids
December 03, 2014

WASHINGTON, DC – The compromise 2015 National Defense Authorization Act now before Congress takes an important step to reduce tobacco use and its health and financial toll on our military by directing the Secretary of Defense to end discount sales of tobacco products at commissaries and exchanges. U.S. Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL) has championed this policy change in a related Defense Department appropriations bill.

However, it is disappointing that the bill also preempts the Defense Department’s ongoing review of its tobacco policies by prohibiting “any new policy that would ban the sale of any legal consumer tobacco product category … within the defense retail systems or on any Department of Defense vessel at sea.”

Given the disproportionately high rates of tobacco use in the military and its impact on military readiness and health care costs, Congress should not limit the Defense Department’s ability to take effective action to reduce tobacco use.

It is important that the DoD take strong action on tobacco because tobacco use within the U.S. military is significantly higher than in the comparable civilian population. The smoking rate among those serving in the military was 24 percent in 2011, compared to 19 percent among adults in the civilian population. Many service members enter the military as non-smokers but become smokers while in the military. Between 36 and 40 percent of smokers in the military started smoking after they joined the military.

In addition to the many health harms caused by tobacco use, the DoD, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) and others have pointed out that it undermines combat readiness by reducing physical fitness and endurance and increases work absenteeism. The IOM also reports that it costs the DoD $1.6 billion each year for tobacco-related medical care, increased hospitalizations and lost days of work.

Higher prices on tobacco products reduce tobacco use by preventing initiation and encouraging current tobacco users to quit. Eliminating price discounts for tobacco products will help improve the health of active duty service members and their families, improve readiness and reduce health care costs.

The Defense Department has taken a number of steps over the years to reduce tobacco use, including creating smoke-free areas and improving access to cessation services. But given the disproportionately high rates of tobacco use in the military, more needs to be done. We urge the Defense Department to quickly complete its review of tobacco use in the military and take effective action to address the health, readiness and financial consequences of tobacco use by service members. Congress should not interfere with this process.