Monday, July 13, 2009

The next smoking ban: Military personnel

Monday morning is here again. As I sip on my green tea, I came across a small news article in the Star Tribune that had the tag line “Can soldiers handle combat pressure without smokes?” At first I thought this question silly until I read the details. According to the article, a study done by the Institute of Medicine reported that “30% of active-duty military personnel and about 22% of veterans use tobacco.” The average in civil life is 20%.

While I understand having a strict code and chain of command in the military, I fail to see where an outright ban of smoking will benefit the morale of the company. Set aside the health risks – current and future – have on the soldier. Gary Stein posed this question in his article, Military should butt out of troops’ smoking habits, “The U.S. military can send brave and injured troops home to incredibly hellacious hospital conditions – or have you already forgotten about the Walter Reed Army Medical Center scandal?”

That is just part of the intrusion being made. A soldier, especially fighting in the Middle East, has bigger threats facing them as they try to keep the peace and/or eradicate the terrorists. I cannot imagine the stress that one experiences while being under the constant threat of death. Retired Gen. Russel Honore quipped on CNN, “When you’re tired and you’ve been going days on end with minimum sleep, and you are not getting the proper meals on time, that hit of tobacco can make a difference” in response to the relief smoking can give the stress soldiers are under.

While suicide rates are on the rise among those in the military since the start of the war efforts in the Middle East. I am not saying that smoking is a cure or a determinant to suicide. Retired Gen. Honore acknowledges what many who smoke in America already know, the hit of tobacco can bring a perceive calm to the day. Now if a man or a woman in the military feels the need to light up a cigarette after the stress of combat so be it.

Now if tobacco was illegal than we have a different conversation on the topic. The call for the ban is political correctness gone too far. With the big push by the Obama administration in overhauling the health care system and it is reported, by the Pentagon, that smoking in the military costs $846M a year in “medical care and lost productivity”. Let’s not confuse the argument.

Simply put. Tobacco is legal, some, 30%, of active-duty military personnel use tobacco to relieve the stress of the day. While everyone understands the health effects on a person, at the end of the day it is a personnel choice not something the government needs to determine.