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4 ways smoking impacts national military readiness

The tobacco industry has a history of targeting members of the military. Marketing tactics, such as giving away cigarettes and holding promotional events on military bases in the 1980s and 1990s, have contributed to higher smoking rates among service members than the general population.

In 2011, nearly one-quarter (24 percent) of active-duty military personnel reported currently smoking, compared to 19 percent of civilians at that time. According to a U.S. Department of Defense memo, 38 percent of military smokers start after enlisting.

Tobacco use “adversely affects military readiness; harms the health and welfare of military families, retirees, and veterans; and costs the nation millions of dollars in health care and lost productivity each year,” according to a 2009 Institute of Medicine review of the effects of smoking in the military commissioned by the DoD and Veterans Administration.

Here are four ways higher smoking rates among service members impact military preparedness, according to the IOM report.

  • Physical performance: The results of a variety of military physical training tests show that smokers have lower physical performance capacity than nonsmokers.
  • Sights and sounds: Smoking has been linked with slower adaptation to darkness and a lower level of visual perception in dim lighting, as well as accelerated hearing loss as smokers age.
  • Risk of injury: In an assessment of soldiers taken during Army basic training, men and women who smoked were more likely to become injured compared to nonsmokers.
  • Lost days of work: Multiple studies have reported that military and civilian smokers miss more days of work each year than nonsmokers due to illnesses, especially respiratory tract infections, alcohol and substance use and accidents. Compared with nonsmokers, the risk of smokers in the Army being hospitalized for causes other than injury or pregnancy was 30 percent higher for men and 25 percent higher for women.

The report also noted that the DoD spends more than $1.6 billion each year on tobacco-related medical care, hospitalization and lost days of work.

For more information on how the tobacco industry has exploited members of the military, learn why tobacco is a social justice issue.

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