Military Times

Military tobacco policy recommendations delayed

The target date for the services to recommend any changes in tobacco policies on military installations to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has been pushed back to mid-December, a defense official said.

A report had been was expected sometime in November.

In March, the Navy reportedly was on track to eliminate tobacco sales on Navy and Marine Corps bases by mid-April. But that was put on hold after defense officials ordered a comprehensive department-wide review of tobacco policies.

Meanwhile, legislation is pending that would block any DoD effort to remove tobacco products from military stores.

In their version of the 2015 defense authorization bill, House lawmakers inserted a provision that would restrict DoD and the services from taking any action to limit or ban the sale of a legal consumer product category sold as of Jan. 1, 2014, in commissaries or exchanges on any military installation or ship at sea.

A DoD memo in March seemed to encourage the services to eliminate tobacco sales — and even all tobacco use — on military bases, while stopping short of ordering specific actions.

"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, stated the memo, signed by Jessica Wright, under secretary of defense for personnel and readiness, and Dr. Jonathan Woodson, assistant secretary of defense for health affairs.

DoD officials are reviewing a number of factors related to tobacco. According to the memo, tobacco use costs the department an estimated $1.6 billion a year in medical expenses and lost work time. Based on statistics that half of smokers will die from a related complication, that equates to about 175,000 current active-duty smokers, officials wrote.

Smoking has been prohibited in workplaces on military installations for about 20 years. Tobacco sales on military bases have steadily declined since defense officials began taking steps to reduce smoking in the ranks, to include reducing the discounts on tobacco products. Tobacco is sold in commissaries on all Army and Air Force installations, six Navy bases and four Marine bases.

Since 1996, the Defense Commissary Agency has bought all its tobacco products from the military exchange services, and prices are marked up to the same level as in the local exchanges. Profits go to the exchanges, but the commissary agency keeps the 5 percent surcharge that customers pay on all commissary purchases.

Part of the profits from exchange sales are contributed to the services' morale, welfare and recreation programs, which means halting sales of tobacco would affect funding for MWR activities. MWR funding has been dwindling for a variety of reasons.

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