Navy Secretary Ray Mabus wants to ban tobacco sales on Navy and Marine bases and ships, and a new Department of Defense-wide review of tobacco policies may just get him his way, the Air Force Times reports.
“We demand that sailors and Marines be incredibly fit, and we know that tobacco hurts that fitness,” he said in a March interview. “We know that the cost for health care far exceeds any profit that we could possibly make selling that. We know that it brings bad health-care results and fitness results.” (RELATED: What makes the title Marine so valuable?)
The DoD estimates that tobacco use costs the department $1.6 billion a year in medical expenses and lost work time. An estimated 24% of Navy personnel and 31% of Marines smoke, according to a 2011 military survey, though in the past year alone Navy exchange tobacco sales decreased by 12%.
The review is expected to finish within the next few months, with officials hoping to make proposals to US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel sometime in the fall. “The health care costs are astounding,” he said when asked about the issue in March. “Now, the dollars are one thing, but the health of your people, I don’t know if you put a price tag on that.”
“Well, I’ll tell you what,” said California Republican and USMC Major Rep. Duncan Hunter, “if you want to make us all healthy, then let’s outlaw war, because war is really dangerous.”
In May, Hunter introduced an amendment to the 2015 National Defense Authorization Act barring military policy that “would limit, restrict, or ban the sale of any legal product category”–in effect, tying the Navy’s hands and blocking them from moving forward with a tobacco sale ban.
The US military stopped including cigarettes in soldiers’ rations in 1975, although they have continued to sell tobacco products at significant discounts in commissaries and exchanges (one 2013 study found that “discounts on cigarettes [in military retail] to be as much as 73% below prices on comparable brands at the nearest WalMart”). Tobacco companies sent free cigarettes to soldiers serving in the Gulf War in 1990, although after a few months the Pentagon banned such “tobacco donations.”
This isn’t the first time a Navy official has tried to curb smoking at sea. In 1993, aircraft carrier commander Captain Stanley W. Bryant banned smoking and cigarette sales aboard the USS Roosevelt, saying “I’m the commanding officer of these kids and I can’t have them inhaling secondhand smoke. I wouldn’t put them in the line of fire. I’m not going to put them in the line of smoke.” This was so controversial it led to a congressional hearing and eventual law–sponsored by two Democrats on the House Armed Services Committee–mandating the sale of tobacco aboard navy ships, passed less than a year after Bryant’s attempted ban.