Friday, July 10, 2009

Military to Ban Smoking? 
And so it goes ...

WASHINGTON — Pentagon health experts are urging Defense Secretary Robert Gates to ban the use of tobacco by troops and end its sale on military property, a change that could dramatically alter a culture intertwined with smoking.
Jack Smith, head of the Pentagon's office of clinical and program policy, says he will recommend that Gates adopt proposals by a federal study that cites rising tobacco use and higher costs for the Pentagon and Department of Veterans Affairs as reasons for the ban.

The study by the Institute of Medicine, requested by the VA and Pentagon, calls for a phased-in ban over a period of years, perhaps up to 20. "We'll certainly be taking that recommendation forward," Smith says.

A tobacco ban would confront a military culture, the report says, in which "the image of the battle-weary soldier in fatigues and helmet, fighting for his country, has frequently included his lit cigarette."

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

The story goes on to note that combat troops smoke more than noncombat troops. I don't think they get the correlations right, though. Combat MOS's have higher proportions of southern and rural white guys... who are also vastly more likely to use snuff and chewing tobacco, as well as smoke. I'm not sure how strictly the reporter is able to draw the distinction, nor am I sure if the suggested ban also targets chewing tobacco.

Now, why might a combat soldier chew tobacco? One reason is because it's REALLY hard to fall asleep with a wad of tobacco in your mouth. So guys on sentry duty use it in lieu of uppers. Or in lieu of just falling asleep. I don't think anyone who hasn't been there can really understand how HARD it is to maintain absolute silence, in the prone position, behind your weapon, at 3am after a full day of marching and fighting. Soldiers and marines grab every edge they can.

Further, I wouldn't disregard the role of cigarrettes on the battlefield - especially the countergeurrilla battlefield. From a humint or interrogater's point of view, or simply from the perspective of a local leader trying to build a relationship with an Iraqi or Afghan, the simple act of offering a nicotine-starved Iraqi a quality American cigarette, and lighting one up one's self, is a time-honored way of establishing a rapport with a local or detainee - and is frequently the first and necessary step in breaking the ice and gaining the trust and cooperation of a local or detainee.

Honestly, we wouldn't get NEAR the HUMINT we do without it. Verily I say unto you... if tobacco were to vanish from U.S. soldiers' kits tomorrow, there would be an almost immediate and bloody, but nearly untraceable consequence on the ground. It would significantly degrade our relationship with locals and our ability to gain intelligence from detainees and HUMINT sources. Tread VERY SLOWLY here.

Finally, tobacco sales also count towards the morale, welfare and recreation budget of the post. If we eliminate tobacco sales from post, that's that much less money available to support MWR for our military service members and their families. Will it be made up somewhere?

Honestly, I have a real problem with any rear echelon pogue declaring, by edict, that one of my guys -- Grown men, all of them, even the kids -- coming back in wired and jumpy from a tough patrol or convoy can't take a few minutes to light one up and unwind. An infantryman in a combat zone? He might well be dead by nightfall. You took him away from his wife and/or girlfriend. He can't drink alcohol. I think we should allow him the luxury of a smoke if he needs it.

I think we should discourage smoking, sure. But an outright ban? Must be liberals invading the Pentagon.

At any rate, this is one of those things that if it's to be done, Obama should lead by example. He can't quit smoking. Yeah, he's got a stressful job. He's not the only one.

Splash, out


UPDATE: I suspect Jolly Rancher is behind this.

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I haven't been there, but I sure can sympathize with a guy who can't afford to fall asleep. There have been days where I'm sitting in front of a computer trying desperately to not nod off.

Usually, I give in and grab a power nap. But I can afford to do that - no one is trying to sneak up on me to slit my throat.
Then there's the other side to this: If the govt. will take away smokes from those putting their lives on the line for us, because it's too expensive to support with the attendant health problems, what will the govt try to do to the rest of us when they take over responsibility for everybody's health care?
Mark L.
Lawrence KS
It's been said by those who were in Ramadi at the onset of the Anbar Awakening that the straw that broke the back of Sunni support to AQI was when Al Queda 'outlawed' smoking.

Something to think about, you Obamateurs in political positions!

Yep, I heard something along those lines, too!

And I know that nicotine-addicted detainees will provide a lot of cooperation for a good American cigarette. As will nicotine-addicted poor all over the world.

We get a lot of mileage out of US troops just having them around to hand out to our friends/informants.
Update - at least Gates won't kiss the lefty ass by banning tobacco in combat zones, but apparently he's going to try to do it on military bases stateside.


OK, I know smoking is bad, but this is getting ridiculous, the army is not supposed to be a bunch of pansies. There should not be a ban on smoking.
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