Enough is enough. Big Tobacco has manipulated and preyed on members of the military for too long. On Armed Forces Day, the best way to celebrate these heroic men and women of the Armed Forces is to protect them from harm. It’s time to give them reinforcements in the ongoing battle against Big Tobacco, which has a firm grasp on members of the military.
Tobacco in the Military
Today, the use of tobacco among the military is 26% higher than the rate of use in the general population. In fact, the odds of starting to smoke are 60% higher for those who are deployed. Alarmingly, the prevalence of smoking among service members actually affects their performance. Not only are they less productive, military personnel who smoke do not perform as well on physical fitness tests. Furthermore, non-injury and pregnancy-related hospitalizations are 30% higher among men and 25% higher among women who smoke.
How Big Tobacco Targeted Troops
How did we get here? Cigarettes were still included in basic field rations until 1975, even as the harms of tobacco became widely known. Big Tobacco had their sights set and they were not interested in giving up. Even past 1975, tobacco was available at commissaries for discounted prices (Link).
Throughout the years, tobacco companies evolved their methods, using clever marketing to support the troops. This was accomplished through military events, holiday cards, and free cigarettes. No, these weren’t kind gestures — they were tactics with the intent of hooking young, new smokers. The real smoking gun comes in the form of Big Tobacco’s internal memos. They show a coordinated effort to target young members of the military, seeing personnel as a “captive audience” with a “high potential for sales.” Not so patriotic after all.
Tobacco Use Today
After decades of cigarette culture, tobacco still has a firm grasp on men and women of the military. Today, vaping is more common than smoking cigarettes in the military. In 2015, 36% of military personnel reported having used e-cigarettes. Since 2011, that number has increased eight-fold. Years of pushback finally resulted in a change in policy in April of 2016. Defense Secretary Ash Carter approved actions to prevent initiation of tobacco use and facilities were directed to restrict tobacco use to outdoor areas. Despite these changes, junior enlisted personnel revealed in focus groups that they believed smoking was still very encouraged, convenient, and seen as a way to deal with stress and boredom.
Today, we celebrate Armed Forces Day. To all of those who serve our country, we thank you — and want to help when you’re ready. Way to Quit and the Department of Health are committed to helping members of the armed forces quit tobacco. Staying tobacco-free in the military can be difficult. That’s why we’re here with a community that cares, and are ready to provide tips, confidential tools, and free resources like online coaches. People who call coaches are two times more likely to quit, and Nicotine Replacement Therapy makes quitting three times as likely.
To get started, call the Quit Line (1-800-QUIT-NOW) or visit waytoquit.org.