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Rates Of Smoking Are Down, But Still High In The Military

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Jonah Bennett Contributor
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Smoking is down in the United States according to the most recent 2015 data provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but smoking appears to still be a major problem in the military.

Among the general population, the rate of smoking is down to 15 percent, but not so in the military, which stands at an overall rate of 24 percent, even when controlling for education and income. This has prompted concern from military officials because of the clear and negative impact of smoking on health and performance, though the number is down from over 50 percent in 1980.

The Institute of Medicine has argued that “military personnel who smoke have reduced physical-performance capacity, lower visual acuity and poorer night vision than nonsmokers. Smoking is associated with hearing loss and increased risks of motor-vehicle collisions, physical injury and hospitalization.”

As of 2011, 49 percent of servicemembers reported using a nicotine product within the past year. Depending on the service, that number can jump even higher. In the Marine Corps, the rate of smoking is at 30.8 percent, which is twice the rate of the Air Force. The Army comes in second place at 26.7 percent. Some have speculated the reason for the lower smoking rate in the Air Force is the service’s recent move to expand the number of smoke-free areas.

Aside from service, there are also differences by rank. Senior officers only smoke at a tenth of the rate compared to junior personnel.

Tobacco comes with costs.

According to a letter sent to Navy secretary Ray Mabus in late 2014 by four Democratic senators, the Department of Defense loses approximately $1.9 billion a year to cover medical care linked to tobacco use, as well as lost productivity. These senators, Jack Reed and Dick Durbin among them, want to see the military ban tobacco sales.

“One in three members of the military today says they started after they enlisted. Why? Well, because we make it easy for them,” Durbin said at a June hearing, according to Politico.

Since tobacco purchases are sensitive to price fluctuations, legislators decided to eliminate cigarette subsidies in military retail outlets in the 2015 National Defense Authorization Act, another attempt to engineer outcomes without directly banning the product.

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