Tobacco Industry and The Connection to the Military

Veteran’s Day originally began as Armistice Day to celebrate the truce between the Allied nations and Germany at the end World War I.  The armistice went into effect on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day on the eleventh month, and so for that reason, November 11 is celebrated.  It wasn’t until after World War II and the Korean War that the name was officially changed from Armistice Day to Veteran’s Day to celebrate the service of all veterans from every war.  But while the boys went to war to serve our country, the tobacco industry supplied the soldiers with free tobacco so as to do their part to “help” the war efforts.  Soldiers came home addicted to nicotine from all the free cigarettes generously supplied by the tobacco companies, and the industry had customers for life.

The U.S. entered WWI in 1917 and tobacco was given to the soldiers as part of their doughboys from WWI smoking pipes“tobacco rations.”  Cigarettes were seen as a way for the soldiers to psychologically escape from the boredom of downtime, stress of combat, and were used as a form a currency.  At first, the soldiers received 0.4 ounces (11 gm) of tobacco and 10 rolling papers, but machine rolled cigarettes soon replaced the loose tobacco and papers.  Cigarettes that had been seen as a physical and moral hazard by earlier anti-tobacco movements, were now considered as important as bullets, according to General John J Pershing.  Anyone opposed to the sending of cigarettes to the “doughboys” was considered a traitor.  The soldiers returned home addicted to tobacco, and the tobacco industry had a steady stream of customers for life.

By the time the U.S. enters World War II over 20 years later, cases of lung cancer were on the rise from the smokers who picked up their habit during WWI.   The generosity of the tobacco industry continued during WWII as soldiers were given cigarettes and gum along with their K-rations.  Name-brand cigarettes were sent to the soldiers while the home front made-do with off-brands, like Rameses or Pacayunes.  One cigarette brand, Lucky Strike, changed its package design from green and gold to an all white pack with a red bulls eye.  The government needed the titanium and bronze used in the dyes for the war effort.  And women smokers loved the new design because the white pack didn’t clash with their dresses.  When Lucky Strike’s ad campaign coincided with the U.S. invasion of North Africa, sales increased 38% – what a lucky strike.  Advertisements also encouraged people back home to support the troops by sending cigarettes.

Before the end of WWII, Germany was ahead of the U.S. in defeating smoking in their country by passing a law forbidding tobacco use in public places by anyone under 18 year of age. But by the end of the war, Germany was using cigarettes as unofficial currency, valued at .50 cents each. As part of the Marshall Plan at the end of war, 93,000 tons of tobacco was shipped free of change to Germany or approximately 210,000,000 cigarettes to aid German Economy.  Not only were our men and women who served during the war addicted to tobacco, the U.S. was  sending tobacco to other countries.

The war ended in 1945 and another generation of young men came home addicted to cigarettes. Wives and girlfriends were also addicted as they tried to be as glamorous as the movie stars on the silver screen and in magazines by copying the way the stars looked when they smoked cigarettes.

A health report in 1948 claimed lung cancer had grown 5x faster than other cancers since 1938.  By 1949, over 50% of men and about 33% of women smoked in the U.S.

During the Korean War in the 1950s there was mounting evidence of the adverse health effects of smoking, yet the military continued to include free cigarettes in military rations from the Korean War through Vietnam conflict until 1975.

Since the end of the Vietnam conflict the soldier’s rations have not included cigarettes, but the government had continued to subsidize the price of cigarettes at the military PX in combat areas by removing all taxes.  But things have changed in the military with regard to tobacco.

Tobacco use has dropped significantly in the last two decades, but about 30% of the active duty still smoke.  The Department of Defense spends about $930 million per year on healthcare for smoking-related illnesses. A recent study of active duty Air Force members below age 36 shows the service spends $107 million a year to treat smokers and for lost productivity due to smoke breaks.

All four services prohibit smoking throughout basic training, and that is a great time to quit for good.  And a ban on tobacco is being urged in the military by banning its use by troops and ending its sale on all military property.

Troops worn out by frequent deployments during the current conflicts rely on cigarettes are a “stress reliever,”  Tobacco use increased after the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan began.  According to reports, one in three servicemen use tobacco, as compared to one in five American adults.  Soldiers and Marines use the most at 37% and 36% respectively.   And combat veterans are more likely to use tobacco than troops who haven’t seen combat.

While our troops have gone off to fight wars on enemy soil, the lucky ones have returned home only to be involved in another battle where they fight against the addiction of nicotine and tobacco; an enemy that is one of the most difficult to win against.   Suicide accounts for 13% of fatalities in the military, and has also been tied to smoking.  The risk of suicide among military men was found to increase significantly with the number of cigarettes smoked daily.

When these men and women signed up to serve our country, they did not imagine that their tobacco use would affect their ability to be the best they could be in the field.  Although the soldiers may not have any current, ongoing medical issues related to smoking, it impairs night vision, weakens the immune system and can lengthen healing time.  Smokers have more upper respiratory illness.  Lung are less are to produce the needed oxygen for training, and muscles are weaker from lack of oxygen.  These are not the dangers the soldiers had in mind when they signed up to serve their country.

It is up to us to help our military men and women get the support they need to help them end their nicotine addictions.  Several websites provide help in quitting, here are just a few.  Check your state for additional information: – relearn life without cigarettes – a site for military personnel – a site for those using chew or dip
American Cancer Society Quitline – a clinically proven, telephone-based counseling program

Check here and here for additional information on this story.

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6 Responses to Tobacco Industry and The Connection to the Military

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  5. Mort says:

    Did the government take any responsibility for the veteran’s lung cancer by compensation.

    • In answer to your question, no. The DOD (Dept of Defense) continued to provide free cigarettes in rations until the 70s. Tobacco advertising is still being allowed in service magazines. Just recently military bases increased the prices for tobacco to match what is being sold in civilian stores.

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