The military presence in Afghanistan and Iraq has highlighted the futuristic weapons capability of the U.S. military. Live satellite feeds of the ongoing conflict, along with uploads to the internet of long-range missile strikes, have kept Americans and others around the world updated on what is happening. While the military is dealing with cutting-edge technology on the battlefield, they sadly lag behind the times when it comes to the war on tobacco.
Times have changed. This isn’t World War II when soldiers received cigarettes in their C-rations and didn’t know that smoking would kill them if they survived the war. This is 2011, the age of smoking bans, higher taxes on tobacco and warning labels. We are currently fighting a global war on tobacco, yet the Pentagon has no plans to fight this one, well, maybe, in about 20 years. Good news for the tobacco users, bad news for their health. For an organization that relies on the health and physical fitness of its employees, maybe they didn’t get that memo on smoking, and tobacco products in general. In case the paper work was lost in the bureaucratic shuffle, here are some numbers.
It cost the Veterans Affairs Department $5 billion to treat smoking-related emphysema in 2008. Think back to all those veterans who received free cigarettes during WWII, and the smoking trend through the 60s. Think of all the military personnel and retired personnel who continue to smoke. If it wasn’t for them, the military stores wouldn’t have sold $611 million worth of tobacco in 2005. While that dollar amount should make you cough, the $564 million the Military Health system spent in 2006 tobacco-related costs should cause you to choke.
Let’s be fair about this, smoking in the military has gone down. In 1980, 51% of the military smoked and that number dropped to 32% in 2005. According to the Center for Disease Control in 2007, 19.8% of adults were current smokers. Math may not be my strongest point, but it looks like smoking rates in the military are a lot higher versus the general population.
So, General, do you see a problem here? It seems like there is a lot of money going to health care related to tobacco use. Wouldn’t your “Army Strong” be stronger and in better health if they weren’t using tobacco?