Tobacco use kills over 440,000 Americans each year. Unfortunately, this unhealthy habit has a long history of use in the US military. It is the hope of many people that smoking will become a thing of the past. Smoking bans in the military prohibit the use of tobacco in official buildings and vehicles, as well as during basic training. However, this does not stop people from smoking on their own time. Many service members start smoking during deployment. It can be a source of stress relief and something to do during long periods of inactivity.
According to a Department of Defense survey, almost a third of respondents said that they began smoking after joining the military. Additionally, another report was commissioned by the VA and it found that 32% of active duty military members smoke, compared to about 20% of the civilian population. Smoking rates were even higher among service members who have been deployed.
Aside from the well-known risks of tobacco use, there are several concerns specific to service members when it comes to smoking:
Readiness: The use of tobacco products reduces the ability of individuals to be ready to function in top form and complete military missions. Short-term tobacco use can lead to decreased stamina and mental sharpness, poorer night vision, difficulty dealing with stress, and poorer hand-eye coordination. It is also related to increased injuries during trainings and cold weather as smoking decreases the body’s ability to heal quickly.
PTSD: A study found that male service members with a history of nicotine dependence were at nearly double the risk of developing PTSD when compared to non-smoking service members. Additionally, those who experienced trauma were more likely to start smoking following such an event. Although the biological explanations behind this link are not yet known, the findings were clear and cannot be fully explained by genetic risk factors.
Weight gain: This is sometimes associated with quitting smoking. Because people in the armed forces are required to meet certain weight standards, this can have formal repercussions.
More information can be found on VA’s tobacco use cessation site, found here: http://www.publichealth.va.gov/smoking/