Military

Tobacco use is a serious problem in the U.S. military. Active-duty military personnel smoke at rates similar to the general population – in 2008, 30.5 percent of active-duty personnel smoked (compared to 29.1 percent rate for the general population).1 Tobacco use significantly compromises troop readiness, and imposes high costs on the Department of Defense and Veterans' Administration.

Tobacco Use Compromises the Readiness of our Troops

  • Many studies detail the detrimental effects of tobacco use on the military. Some of the findings include:
    • Smoking is one of the best predictors of military training failure.
    • Smokers are more likely to perform poorly on military fitness evaluations.
    • Smokers are more likely to sustain injuries, particularly musculoskeletal injuries.
    • Smokers report significantly more stress from military duty than non-smokers, especially those who reported that they use smoking to control stress.2
  • In addition, an Institute of Medicine report found that military personnel who smoked had lower visual acuity and poorer night vision than non-smokers. The report also noted that the adverse health effects of tobacco use such as decreased cognitive ability and impaired respiratory function affect aviation performance and military diving.3

Tobacco Use in the U.S. Military

  • There are disparities in smoking rates among the different military branches:4

   Smoking Rate in the United States Armed Forces (2008)*

Group Any Smoking Heavy Smoking**
All Branches 30.0%  9.5%
Army 33.3% 12.5%
Navy 31.2%  9.3%
Marine Corps 31.0%  9.8%
Air Force  24.6%    6.6%

* Heavy smoking is defined in the Department of Defense survey as one or more packs per day.
** Smoking rates are adjusted to account for differences between the groups in key demographics. This allows for comparison of smoking rates among groups.
† Rate is significantly different when compared to other branches. 

  • Smoking rates are particularly high among deployed service members. The Veterans Administration estimates that more than 50 percent of all active duty personnel currently stationed in Iraq smoke.5
  • Many military personnel use smokeless tobacco, either instead of or in addition to cigarettes. Rates of smokeless tobacco use are on the rise, having increased from 11.7 percent in 1998 to 13.6 percent in 2008.6

Why Do So Many Military Personnel Use Tobacco?

Many of the tobacco users in the military did not use tobacco products when they entered the service. Among current smokers in the military, 29.7 percent started to smoke after joining. Department of Defense survey data show some possible reasons for this high initiation rate:7

  • 33 percent of active duty personnel surveyed say that cigarettes are available at many places on installations, and this makes it easy to smoke. 
  • Over 36 percent of service members report that "most" of their friends in the service smoke. 
  • Active duty personnel cite several reasons why they began smoking:
    • To relieve stress – 24.5 percent.
    • Needed to relax or calm down – 25.1 percent.
    • To relieve boredom – 19.4 percent.

Many Service Members Have a Hard Time Quitting8

  • A large number of smokers in the military want to and plan to quit. In the 2008 Department of Defense Survey, 24 percent of current smokers in the military indicated that they were planning to quit in the next 30 days. Thirty-eight percent intended to quit in the next 6 months.
  • Unfortunately, many of these personnel are not able to quit successfully. In 2008, 48 percent of current smokers surveyed attempted to quit, but were unsuccessful.

The Monetary Costs of Tobacco Use for the Department of Defense and Veterans Administration are High

  • Tobacco use costs the Department of Defense around $1.6 billion dollars per year due to tobacco related medical care, increased hospitalization, and lost days of work.9
  • The Institute of Medicine reported that the Military Health Service estimated their tobacco-related costs to be $564 million in 2006.10
  • In 2008, the Veterans Administration reported spending over $5 billion to treat chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).11 The Surgeon General has estimated that "about 90 percent of all deaths from chronic obstructive lung diseases are attributable to cigarette smoking."12
  • Cigarette smoking poses a significant cost to individuals in the military:13
    • Tobacco use can cost as much as 10 percent of an enlisted member's salary.
    • Low-income military families where tobacco use was present were less likely to be able to afford enough food to lead a healthy lifestyle.

The American Lung Association has more information available on quitting smoking and our programs to help you do so, our advocacy efforts to reduce tobacco use and exposure to secondhand smoke, and tobacco use trends on our website at www.lung.org, or through the Lung HelpLine at 1-800-LUNG-USA (1-800-586-4872).

 Sources


1. Department of Defense. 2008 DoD Survey of Health Related Behaviors Among Active Duty Personnel. Washington D.C.: Department of Defense, 2009.
2. Kilgore, M.
Smoking and Military Readiness. Tobacco Control Network. December 12, 2006.
3. Institute of Medicine. Combating Tobacco Use in Military and Veteran Populations. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press, 2009.
4. Department of Defense. 2008 DoD Survey of Health Related Behaviors Among Active Duty Personnel. Washington D.C.: Department of Defense, 2009.

5. Hamlett-Berry, KW, as cited in Beckham, JC et al. Preliminary findings from a clinical demonstration project for veterans returning from Iraq or Afghanistan. Military Medicine. May 2008;173(5):448-51.
6. Department of Defense. 2008 DoD Survey of Health Related Behaviors Among Active Duty Personnel. Washington D.C.: Department of Defense, 2009.

7. Ibid.
8. Ibid.
9. Department of Defense.
Department of Defense Anti-Tobacco Campaign Invades Military Markets. TRICARE News Release. March 20, 2008;8(23).
10. Institute of Medicine. Combating Tobacco Use in Military and Veteran Populations. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press, 2009.
11. Ibid.
12. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The Health Consequences of Smoking: A Report of the Surgeon General. 2004.
13. Pyle, SA, Haddock, CK, Poston, WS, Bray, RM, and Williams, J. Tobacco use and perceived financial strain among junior enlisted in the US Military in 2002. Preventive Medicine. December, 2007;45(6):460-463.