Military Personnel Use Tobacco at High Rates

Smoking is a significant 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 for the general population).1 There are disparities in smoking rates between the different military branches:

Smoking Rates in the United States Armed Forces (2011)2

Group Any Smoking Heavy Smoking*
Army 26.7% 3.9%
Navy 24.4%  3.4%
Marine Corps 30.8%  4.1%
Air Force  16.7%    1.6%
Coast Guard 19.9% 2.3%

* Heavy smoking is defined in the Department of Defense survey as one or more packs per day.
† 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.3 Many military personnel use smokeless tobacco, either instead of or in addition to cigarettes. In 2011, 11.4 percent of service members used smokeless tobacco at least once a week, with rates highest in the Marine Corps (19.0 percent) and lowest in the Air Force (7.9 percent).2

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.1 Department of Defense survey data show some possible reasons for this high initiation rate:

  • 28 percent of light- or moderate-smokers report that they would smoke less if the number of places on installations where smoking was permitted was limited, and 25 percent would smoke less if prices were raised to match those at outside installations. 2
  • Over 73 percent of service members report that "some" or "most" of their friends in the service smoke.2
  • Active duty, light- or moderate-smoking personnel cite several reasons why they smoke:2
    • To relieve stress – 74.4 percent
    • To relax or calm down – 75.3 percent
    • To relieve boredom – 55.5 percent

Many Service Members Have a Hard Time Quitting

A large number of smokers in the military want to and plan to quit. In the 2011 Department of Defense Survey, 57.8 percent of infrequent smokers, 33.0 percent of light or moderate smokers, and 22.8 percent of heavy smokers in the military indicated that they were planning to quit in the next 6 months.

Unfortunately, many of these personnel are not able to quit successfully. In 2011, 77.0 percent of infrequent smokers, 32.9 percent of light or moderate smokers, and 22.2 percent of heavy smokers surveyed had attempted to quit, but were unsuccessful.



1. Department of Defense. 2008 DoD Survey of Health Related Behaviors Among Active Duty Personnel. Washington D.C.: Department of Defense, 2009.
Department of Defense.2011 DoD Survey of Health Related Behaviors Among Active Duty Personnel. Washington D.C.: Department of Defense, 2013.
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.