When it comes to the use of tobacco products by U.S. Armed Services personnel, the 2015 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA),(www.congress.gov) which Congress passed as part of the $1.1 trillion omnibus government funding bill,(www.gpo.gov) is a mixed bag. On the upside, it does eliminate the discount for tobacco and tobacco-related products sold at military exchanges.
But this positive step comes as a broader call to discontinue tobacco sales in U.S. military installations fell flat. Specifically, language included in the NDAA prohibits "any new policy that would ban the sale of any legal consumer tobacco product category … within the defense retail systems or on any Department of Defense vessel at sea."
The news drew impassioned responses from anti-tobacco organizations. Gregg Haifley, director of federal relations for the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (ACS CAN), said in a news release(www.acscan.org) that "while the proposed legislation includes an important provision that would promote tobacco cessation by eliminating substantial price discounts currently applied to tobacco products sold at commissaries and exchanges, ACS CAN is extremely disappointed that additional language in the bill would prohibit any new policy banning the sale of tobacco products sold in defense retail establishments or on vessels at sea."
Haifley went on to say, "This unwise action is a direct reaction to Navy Secretary (Ray) Mabus' consideration earlier this year of a policy to stop selling tobacco products on bases and ships -- a proposal strongly supported by the public health community. With passage of the bill, no branch of the military will have the freedom to enact such a policy that could reduce initiation of tobacco use and motivate tobacco users to quit."
Matthew Myers, president of Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, said in a statement(www.tobaccofreekids.org) that "given the disproportionately high rates of tobacco use in the military and its impact on military readiness and health care costs, Congress should not limit the Defense Department's ability to take effective action to reduce tobacco use."
Myers pointed out that Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., championed the tobacco discount elimination in a related Defense Department appropriations bill. Durbin also commented on the inclusion of the provision in the NDAA in a news release(www.durbin.senate.gov) of his own.
"Smoking rates among servicemembers are 20 percent higher than the rest of America, and use of spit tobacco is more than 450 percent higher," Durbin said in the release. "Discounting tobacco products lures even more servicemen and women into this unhealthy and deadly addiction. Ending this price subsidy is a commonsense reform that will protect the health of our nation's troops."
The Durbin release also cited research that found a 10 percent increase in cigarette prices reduced consumption by 3 percent to 5 percent among adults. "Yet, tobacco sold at military exchanges is subject to a 5 percent discount compared to prices in the local community, and because of lax enforcement and ill-defined community comparisons, discounts can be as high as 25 percent off or more," the release said.
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AAFP Backs Potential Ban of Tobacco Sales in Military Installations