On Veteran’s Day we honor the men and women who have chosen to serve our country in the military. Whether they joined during a time of war or during peacetime, they all made sacrifices to fulfill their obligations. Some made the ultimate sacrifice during battle, while others continue to battle long after their service is over. Many of our veterans became addicted to tobacco during their time of service from free cigarettes handled out with their rations during wartime, and reinforced by cheap tobacco prices at the commissaries. It is just recently that this problem is being addressed.
VA information states 57% of the US civilian population claims they have never smoked cigarettes, but only 32% of Veterans can make that same claim. While about 17% of the adult U.S. population 18 years or older currently smoke cigarettes, according to the CDC, those numbers are much higher for VA enrollees. Of the current VA enrollees who are current smokers, 28.8% in the 30 or younger age group are the highest smokers, followed by the 50-64 age group at 28.6%. Those in the 31-49 age group aren’t far behind at 23.6%. Those in the 65 or older age group make up the largest percentage of VA enrollees, but the smallest group of smokers at only 10.8%.
In 2014 the Senate Appropriations defense subcommittee approved a “spending bill that would eliminate the 25 percent discount that members of the armed services enjoy when buying tobacco products at commissaries and elsewhere, including cigarettes and chewing tobacco.” The low cost of tobacco ends up meaning a higher cost of health care and productivity losses for the defense department to the tune of $1.6 billion each year.
The good news is that while tobacco numbers in the military are still higher than the civilian population, tobacco sales “have steadily declined since defense officials began taking steps to reduce smoking in the ranks about 20 years ago, through a variety of efforts.” In fact between 2014 and 2015, a 11% decrease was noted by the Army and Air Force Exchange Service. It is good to see measures in place to protect our service men and women from unnecessary suffering from the tobacco industry. It is one war they shouldn’t have to fight.