During World War I, tobacco companies began to target military personnel by offering cigarettes as a way for them to help cope with the psychological stresses of war. Cigarettes would eventually be included in rations provided to the troops and would grow to be a part of military culture helping to better illustrate the hardships of war to the American public. During World War II, cigarettes were not only included in rations, but also sent to the troops for free and advertisements were used suggesting that the American public send cigarettes to troops overseas. Cigarettes were included in rations until 1975 despite mounting evidence of the adverse health effects.
As the U.S. Military attempts to maintain a high state of readiness, it has greatly increased the efforts to dramatically cut tobacco usage within it’s ranks. In 1980, more than 50% of military personnel reported using cigarettes in the past 30 days. a In 1985, the Department of Defense conducted a study and found that 47% of military personnel smoked compared with that of 30% of U.S. civilians. By 1998, the rate of smoking in the Military dropped to 30%, but by 2002 it had risen to 34%. This increase could possibly be attributed to the deployments associated with the response of the United States following the attacks on September 11, 2001. In 2002, the usage of smokeless tobacco increased also from 12% to 15%.
According to The Health Consequences of Smoking —50 Years of Progress, the Marine Corps leads the way for tobacco usage with 37% and the Air Force has the lowest percentage of use with 23%. Military personnel 18 to 25 years old have an increased tobacco usage with 38% using tobacco which is higher than the civilian average for the same age group which is 34%. Military personnel between the ages of 46 to 64 have the lowest usage at 11% which is lower than civilian usage of tobacco which is 18%. Across all the services, 40% of enlisted servicemembers in the grade of E1-E3 used tobacco products in the past 30 days. The commissioned officers between the grades of O4 through O10 had the lowest percentage of usage at just 5%. Of military personnel who smoke, 30% reported that they started smoking after joining the military. 14% of males between 18–55 years of age reported that they started using smokeless tobacco after joining the military.
While each service’s basic military training (BMT) is tobacco free and 80% of military personnel who used tobacco prior to training said they would remain tobacco free following their completion training, the data paints a different picture. 82% of former smokers, smokeless tobacco users, and dual tobacco users resume tobacco use within 1 year of BMT and another 17% of previous non-tobacco users adopt regular use of cigarettes, smokeless tobacco, or cigars during the same period of time.
According to The Health Consequences of Smoking —50 Years of Progress, given that officers in the U.S. military have very low rates of tobacco use in general (5%), a tobacco-free military leadership is certainly viable and possible. Because officers are seen as role models for enlisted personnel, the resultant trickle down effect on rates of tobacco use by enlisted personnel is likely not to be trivial. Simultaneously, all military installations could strive to become completely tobacco-free.
Below are some key dates and events related the Department of Defense efforts to curb tobacco usage.
1975 – DoD discontinued the inclusion of cigarettes in K-rations and C-rations
1978 – DoD implements basic smoking regulations, including the designation of smoking and nonsmoking areas.
1986 – DoD Directive 1010.10 is issued which announced, “an intense anti-smoking campaign…at all levels of all Services.” The policy banned the use of tobacco during basic training, increased the number of designated nonsmoking areas, and prohibited health care providers from smoking on duty.
1992 – Commissaries and exchanges are prohibited from participating in promotions by tobacco manufacturers directed specifically at military personnel. Commissaries are also required to stock cigarettes in the back
1993 – The USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN-71) became the first smoke-free Navy ship
1997 – Executive Order 13508 was introduced banning smoking in all government-owned, rented, or leased interior spaces. The DoD approved a three year phase-in period for their facilities and eventually implemented the ban in 2002.