This year’s defense spending bill will not ban tobacco sales at military bases, leaving anti-tobacco advocates shocked and upset, The Hill reports.
According to the language listed in the bill, the military “may not take any action to implement any new policy that would ban the sale of any…legal consumer product.” Former Marine reservist California Republican Rep. Duncan Hunter argued in November against banning tobacco, pointing out that since the military is protecting the lives of American citizens, the military shouldn’t have any fewer freedoms than regular Americans enjoy.
Navy Secretary Ray Mabus pushed earlier this year to remove tobacco from Navy ships and bases, which led former Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel to immediately call for a full review of tobacco policy in the military, placing Mabus’ plans to remove tobacco by April of this year in stasis.
“We are very discouraged that Congress is interfering with the military’s efforts to protect the health of the men and women who serve our country by tying the hands of armed services leadership,” American Cancer Society lobbyist Gregg Haifley wrote in a statement regarding the recent move by the House.
However, anti-tobacco advocates are encouraged that price discounts lowering the cost of tobacco to 5 percent below the cheapest price have been eliminated. In some cases, according to a study by the Institute for Biobehavioral Health Research, tobacco is priced at 14 percent lower than market rates on Air Force bases and 17 percent lower than market rates on Army bases. Others are surprised at the decision to keep tobacco around altogether, given that in March, a Department of Defense (DOD) memo spoke favorably about the idea of banning tobacco, but declined to suggest any concrete action.
“Structural reforms in how and where we allow tobacco purchases to be made; as well as the need to consider tobacco-free installations, are all matters that require our near-term attention,” the memo stated, according to Military Times. The memo was signed by Jessica Wright, undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, and Dr. Jonathan Woodson, assistant secretary of defense for health affairs. It further stated that tobacco costs the military around $1.6 billion dollars a year in health expenses. Profits from military store sales for 2012 clocked in at $125.7 million dollars.
Tobacco sales are already on the decline and smoking tobacco has been prohibited in military workplaces for 20 years. The 2015 National Defense Authorization Act is expected to be passed by Congress before Christmas break.
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