American Lung Association Supports Pentagon Health Official’s Push for a Tobacco-Free Military

IOM Report Confirms Tobacco Use Interferes with Military Readiness—Lung Association Stands Ready to Help Soldiers and Their Families Quit

(July 13, 2009)

Statement of Captain Charles D. Connor, U.S. Navy (Ret.), American Lung Association President and CEO:

A new report released by the prestigious Institute of Medicine (IOM) finds the Department of Defense spends more than $1.6 billion each year on tobacco-related medical care, increased hospitalizations and lost days of work. Last year, the Department of Veterans Affairs spent more than $5 billion to treat chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), an often fatal respiratory disease linked closely to smoking.

USA Today reports that Pentagon health experts have taken notice and are urging Defense Secretary Robert Gates to “to ban the use of tobacco by troops and end its sale on military property.” The American Lung Association applauds the Pentagon for responding positively to these important recommendations to protect the health of those in uniform.

The IOM report also found that tobacco use interferes with military readiness. In the short term, smokers are more susceptible to colds and other respiratory infections, which can weaken a soldier’s physical fitness and stamina. Of even greater concern in the long term, nearly half of all smokers will die as the result of their addiction. The IOM found that one in three service members use tobacco, which is substantially higher than the general adult population where one in five smokes.

To its great credit, in the last century the military led the way in many difficult issues such as racial integration, equal opportunity, gender equality, drug abuse, physical fitness, suicide prevention, among many others. The time has come for the military to tackle, once and for all, the terrible scourge of tobacco use among its young population, who are becoming addicted to this deadly substance for the first time while serving our country.

The Lung Association urges Pentagon officials to act quickly to implement measures that will herald in a new era of healthier, tobacco-free soldiers. By requiring new officers and enlisted personnel to not use tobacco combined with implementing and enforcing smokefree policies on all military installations, countless lives will be saved. The Lung Association also strongly supports the report’s recommendation to end the sale of tobacco products at base exchanges and commissaries.

The American Lung Association is committed to saving the lives of our military personnel by preventing tobacco use and helping users quit. We stand at the ready to provide smoking cessation services and invite military health providers to join us in this effort.