Everyday Can Be Independence Day For Our Military

Guest Blogger – Colleen Haydon, Program Manager, Project UNIFORM (Undoing Nicotine Influence From Our Respected Military)/CYAN

As we all recover from our 4th of July holiday, it’s a good time to reflect upon just what independence means. In my world in military tobacco control, independence means many things and that includes a life free of tobacco. There’s been a lot of talk lately about the role of tobacco in the military. Recently, the Secretary of the Navy (SecNav) announced his intent to prohibit the sale of tobacco on Navy and Marine Corps installations and ships. While the SecNav is taking steps to reduce tobacco use in the military, others are strongly opposing stronger tobacco restrictions.

I have dedicated the last eight years of my professional life to this topic and the connection to independence is clear to me. Tobacco makes one dependent. Tobacco controls lives. Tobacco, when used as directed, can kill you. There is nothing about tobacco that deserves the attention of our nation’s bravest and most valuable members. It has been suggested that military service men and women already put their lives at risk every day as a part of their duties so denying them tobacco is a waste of time.

With all due respect to those who have made these misguided claims, I emphatically disagree and reject your premise.

  • First, it is because our nation’s military service men and women are put in harms way on a daily basis that tobacco has no place in that reality. From updated equipment to appropriate training, we do all we can to protect our Service Members from harm to ensure that they survive whatever horrible situation they are put into. Why would we then encourage the use of products that we know will at the least harm and at the worst kill these important members of our nation?
  • Secondly, nothing that serves to better the lives of our nation’s military personnel is a waste of time. Those who voluntarily serve to protect our country deserve the best of what we have, and that means living a life free of tobacco.
  • Finally, it is important to understand that many Service Members lead lives that we as civilians cannot even imagine. Intense stress accompanied by severe boredom; job demands beyond what most of us could accomplish; cultural realities that most of us do not understand.

Even with all of those factors, the fact remains that the majority of military service members do not use tobacco: they find a more constructive way to deal with stress and calm down; they find a better way to reduce boredom and keep awake. To make any suggestion that “most” people in the military smoke is not only misleading, but also perpetuates a deceptive stereotype about military communities. The Department of Defense tells us that young adult, enlisted Marines have the highest tobacco use rate among those in the military, but even that is not a majority of Marines or the military.

More than 440,000 Americans die every year from tobacco related illnesses. That means that more Americans die every year from tobacco than all the battle deaths from all the wars since WWI to the present day (according to the Department of Veterans Affairs.) When Secretary of the Navy Mabus wrote that, “Tobacco use is the most avoidable public health hazard in the Navy and Marine Corps,” he knows what he is talking about. Allowing the Secretary of Defense or the Secretary of the Navy to regulate tobacco products on military installations saves lives, plain and simple.

Let’s help military Service Members celebrate their independence from tobacco by supporting Secretary Mabus and others in their pursuit to create an environment worthy of those who serve our country. Our military Service Members and their families deserve the best of what we have, and that means a tobacco-free environment. Stay tuned to Project UNIFORM and CYAN for opportunities to support the SecNav’s proposal.

– Colleen Haydon


*On Tuesday, July 15, the U.S. Senate Appropriations defense subcommittee, chaired by Dick Durbin, approved a defense spending bill that would eliminate discounts on tobacco products for the military at commissaries. Click here to view the letter voluntary health organizations sent out in support of Durbin’s efforts!

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