The military is looking at banning smoking in the military. I didn’t really have an opinion until I read the explanation:

Jack Smith, head of the Pentagon’s office of clinical and program policy, says he will recommend that Gates adopt proposals by a federal study that cites rising tobacco use and higher costs for the Pentagon and Department of Veterans Affairs as reasons for the ban.

Now smoking is bad for you for all sorts of reasons. And there are reasons I could see it being particularly bad for soldiers. It cuts into stamina, disrupts sleeping patterns, and so on. And the military is a place where the “freedom to be” does not really exist. So there are a number of reasons as to why I could support (or at least decline to oppose) a ban.

Health care costs, however, are not among them. Soldiers are not like senior citizens on Medicare or less fortunate citizens on Medicaid. They don’t get health care out of the goodness of the hearts of the federal government and its taxpaying benefactors. They get it because they served our country. Just as the GI Bill is not a gift, neither is the VA. If we’re going to put them in harms way and in stressful situations and if they need to smoke to cope with that and we’re not worried about the effect it would have on their job performance, then paying for some emphaczema tanks and lung cancer treatments is really not something that we should get huffy about.

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10 Responses to Military Smoking Ban

  1. Sheila Tone says:

    Do we necessarily agree it would harm job performance? I hear smoking helps keep people alert and focused.

  2. Transplanted Lawyer says:

    The GI Bill is not a gift, but it is an incentive, in many ways like the way your health insurance is not a “gift” from your employer. If your employer took it away, you might be less willing to work for it or demand greater compensation in some other fashion. VA health care is a moral obligation owed by the country to its soldiers, but I do not think it is a Constitutional imperative the way, for instance, the Post Office or standardized currency are. My point is that Congress could legally change the way we compensate our soldiers for their service if it chooses to to do so — but in making this point, I want to be careful not to suggest that doing so would be a good idea becuase it would not.

    As for the smoking policy, a soldier can have a drink if he wants — as long as he doesn’t drink on duty, show up to work under the influence, or become drunk and disorderly while in uniform. If the military is going to regulate smoking, a similar standard should apply. I can see encouraging soldiers to not smoke for health reasons and restricting smoking in areas or at times when others cannot escape from the smoke (like belowdecks in naval vessels or in bunkers).

  3. trumwill says:


    It could be beneficial. I don’t know for sure. My personal experience suggests not, but I don’t have the constitution of a soldier. Regardless, though, if the DOD could demonstrate that it is detrimental to performance and that outweighs other factors such as morale, I’d be a lot more supportive (or less resistent) to the change in policy.


    The issue isn’t whether the government has the right to. Clearly it does. The question is whether it should utilize that right in order to save some money. In the case of soldiers, I don’t believe it should on that basis. Restricting smoking on another basis, such as performance as I mentioned or as relief for non-smoking soldiers as you do, may make altering our policy worthwhile. It’s sort of like paying soldiers less or cutting benefits or whatever may save money, but even if it had no effect on recruiting, I believe that it would be a bad idea to do so.

  4. Linus says:

    Is it clear that a smoking ban would mean less money for the VA overall? If a smoking ban means the VA has more money to spend on other medical treatments, I see it as a win-win.

  5. Kirk says:

    A ban on military smoking seems dangerous to me, as current smokers might resort to buying cigarettes from foreigners, some of whom might not be friendly. Also, if soldiers are smoking illicitly, they might choose unsafe places to do so, as they’d have to hide. For example, they might smoke near flammable or explosive materials, or even outside at night, where a cigarette can supposedly be seen from a mile away.

    And of course, if they’re sneaking off to smoke, then they’re not where they’re supposed to be. That wouldn’t be good.

  6. Sheila Tone says:

    even outside at night, where a cigarette can supposedly be seen from a mile away.

    Kirk, any idea if this is true? My dad has also said this. I think it got popularized during the WWII air raid drills, to get everyone to turn off all their lights, but it seems suspect to me.

  7. Kirk says:

    Kirk, any idea if this is true? My dad has also said this. I think it got popularized during the WWII air raid drills, to get everyone to turn off all their lights, but it seems suspect to me.

    I honestly don’t know. However, when underway, our ships always observe blackout conditions at night, with navigational lighting dimmed below a level that was legal for civilian vessels. Also, no white light was allowed to exit doors or hatches; they all had interlocks on them that would turn out the lights when they were opened.

    Red light, however, was okay, as it doesn’t travel as far as white light. This is why you sometimes see military flashlights with red filters on them. (Red light also doesn’t disrupt night vision, which can take up to 20 minutes to return after exposure to white light.)

    Of course, cigarettes burn red, so you think they would be okay. But they’re not.

  8. Peter says:

    An old superstition says that it’s bad luck to be the third person lighting a cigarette off the same match. It may actually have a grounding in fact. During the trench warfare in World War I, snipers often would fire at the light from matches in the otherwise-dark enemy trenches, figuring that a luckless soldier would be holding the match in front of himself. Matches were in short supply and often had to be shared. Someone determined that by the time a sniper was able to take note of the match light, aim, and fire, two soldiers would have lit their cigarettes and passed on the match to a third.

  9. trumwill says:

    Linus, if framed that way I would be more okay with it. If the government we working off a balanced budget and could demonstrate that one would necessarily lead to the other and not to some other project. It’s a tough case for the government to make, though, and even then my response might be “get the money from somewhere else” or “raise taxes if you need to”.

  10. Abel says:

    I actually agree with you on this. They put their lives on the line — let em smoke!

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