Smoke ’em if you got ’em
As seen at pretty much every news outlet everywhere, a study commissioned by the Pentagon and the Department of Veteran Affairs is pushing to ban both the sale and use of tobacco on military bases and even by officers serving in active combat.
According to the study, tobacco use impairs military readiness in the short term. Over the long term, it can cause serious health problems, including lung cancer and cardiovascular disease. The study also says smokeless tobacco use can lead to oral and pancreatic cancer.
My first question after reading this is “How much of our tax dollars went towards a study that results in information we already knew at least thirty years ago?” My second is “Really? Really?” Not surprisingly, follow-up articles suggest that this would not be a popular decision with many of those serving our country.
McCarter echoed the sentiments of many active-duty and retired military personnel when they learned of the proposed ban this week. Message boards on popular military forums like military.com, armchairgeneral.com and officer.com were burning up with reactions like “what a CROCK” and “If they really do ban tobacco in the military there are going to be some ****ed off troops.”
Do people actually censor the word “pissed” when they type it out? That’s actually kind of cute. But I digress. I don’t smoke, I think I’ve mentioned that before. Growing up in a family where nearly everyone smoked like chimneys at some point, I made it a point never to pick up the habit myself. I’ve also mentioned before that my father died earlier this year from complications of emphysema, an illness that could have only come from a forty year long addiction to cigarettes. Despite all that, I find the notion of banning smoking in the military, even for soldiers risking their lives in some godforsaken desert in the middle of Iraq, to be rather ludicrous. Considering the suicide rate for military personnel is already distressingly high, not to mention the fact that quitting cigarettes can have the same effect on a person emotionally and physically as quitting harder drugs such as heroin and crystal meth, I shudder to think what sort of effect a widespread ban on tobacco use would have. I don’t know about you, but I really don’t want our troops even more aggressive and temperamental than they already are. Considering the sobering statistics of rape and violence in the military, that appears to be quite enough of a problem as is.
I’m going to guess that, particularly for soldiers serving in active duty, asthma and the possibility of heart disease are low on their list of things to worry about, when they’re faced every day with the chance of stepping on a landmine or getting their heads turned to jelly by sniper rifles. It seems to me that the real issue here isn’t about military personnel who smoke and the effect it has on their health, but the cost of treating smoking-related illnesses by VA hospitals. It’s a reasonable concern, considering that in many cases the government funded medical services provided to veterans are woefully inadequate, but eliminating smoking entirely, particularly when it may be the only thing that keeps someone’s shit together when faced with the very real horror of combat, seems rather cruel. What are they supposed to use as an alternative, chewing gum? Carrot sticks?
It’s also ironic when you take into account that, barely a generation ago, the military was where many young men first took up smoking in the first place. My father served in the Army in the early 60s and recalled being given cigarettes as a reward for completing assignments at his base. My ex-father-in-law did a tour of duty in Vietnam and was given cigarettes as part of his rations. Originally plying their servicemen and women with cigarettes as incentive for being good little soldiers, now they want to take them away, mostly because it costs too much money to take care of them if those cigarettes make them sick. Will there be funds and facilities available to help them through the agony of nicotine withdrawal? Not likely, if the piss-poor state of mental health support is any indicator. I’ve never been the flag-waving, yellow ribbon sporting “support our troops” type, but I gotta say: let these people have their damn smokes. It may be literally the only thing they rely on for comfort. They know it may make them sick down the line, all people who smoke know it’s bad for them, but last I checked it’s still legal for a person to take that chance.