State health officials in Massachusetts are developing measures to help the state’s military veterans quit smoking. The new campaign is the second effort launched since 2008 to help veterans with this growing health problem. Massachusetts Lieutenant Governor Tim Murray released a statement praising “the brave men and women” in uniform and said that the campaign would help to “provide (veterans) with the opportunity to live long, healthy lives”.
A report from the office of Governor Deval Patrick showed that nearly one-fourth of all Massachusetts veterans smoke cigarettes. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta estimates that less than one-sixth of all adults in the Bay State smoke. A related report from the Institute of Medicine showed that nearly one in three people on active military duty smoke, with the number rising to half or more among those veterans who have been deployed to war zones in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Coleman Nee, a veteran of the US Marine Corps during Operation Desert Storm in 1991, is now the Massachusetts Secretary of Veterans’ Services. Mr. Nee also spoke out about the anti-smoking campaign, saying that smoking among veterans is “a very serious problem”. He said that smoking is an issue for veterans’ services agencies as well as public health groups. He called the addiction to smoking among service members “a real shame”.
Mr. Nee recalled that, during his time in the Marine Corps, he and other service personnel would receive cigarettes and smokeless tobacco as part of their care packages from home, a tradition that started back in World War I. He remarked that this practice has since stopped; especially in light of the numerous health problems that smoking is now understood to cause.
A report from the state public health office revealed that cigarette smoking is the number-one cause of preventable disease and death in Massachusetts. The report also estimates that health care costs for smokers add up to over $4.3 billion annually.
The public awareness campaign for veterans includes a toll-free number that offers support and information on smoking cessation programs. When the first campaign started in 2008, thousands of veterans called the support hotline and obtained nicotine patches to help them quit the habit. Massachusetts State Representative James E. Valle, chairman of the Joint Committee on Veterans and Federal Affairs, said that the program shows the state’s commitment to “helping those who have served” in uniform to lead healthier lives.
The moves to help veterans quit smoking come in light of a study commissioned by the Department of Defense in 2009. The study examined the feasibility of banning smoking among all service personnel within the next decade. All military bases prohibit smoking indoors, but the study also considers banning the sale of tobacco products on bases, as well as stopping troops in the field from smoking.
However, some military personnel are opposed to any ban on smoking. Many see smoking as a stress reliever, especially during the heat of battle. The Defense Department study also found that bases generate millions of dollars from tobacco sales, most of which goes toward covering the costs of programs for dependents and for recreation.