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Former navy secretary Ray Mabus on the culture of smoking in the military

It’s one of the most embedded things that you ever see,” said former Secretary of the U.S. Navy Ray Mabus in an interview with Truth Initiative®, referring to smoking in the military.

A pro-tobacco culture infiltrated the military, thanks in part to the heavy targeting of service members by the tobacco industry. While the biggest examples of targeting happened decades ago and are now illegal or banned by the military — massive cigarette giveaways to service members and promotional events sponsored by tobacco companies on military bases, for example — a culture of smoking can still be seen today.

Figures from 2011 show that members of the military smoke at higher rates than the general population and 38 percent of smokers in the military begin smoking after enlisting.

“It’s almost part of the rite of passage, it seems,” said Mabus, who led the Navy from 2009 to early 2017 and made efforts to stop cigarette sales on military bases during that time. “It’s the way people talk to each other. It’s the way they take breaks.”

Removing tobacco from military culture is critical, and the Department of Defense has recently taken steps to address the issue, including expanding smoke-free zones, increasing education about the dangers of tobacco use, strengthening tobacco cessation programs and raising the cost of cigarettes on military bases.

For more information on how the tobacco industry exploits military service members, read more on why tobacco is a social justice issue.