Tuesday, June 30, 2009

A smoker-free army in twenty years

A soon to be published report by the US Institute of Medicine (IOM) seems to suggest that smokers are unfit for military service. Uh-huh. Apparently, in the US military, as well as contributing to a host of tobacco related diseases, smoking is associated with hearing loss, motor vehicle collisions, physical injuries and hospitalization.

The report, compiled by the IOM on behalf of the Department of Defense (DoD) and Veterans Affairs (VA), is called ‘Combating Tobacco Use in Military and Veteran Populations’. According to the report, the IOM was asked “to convene a committee to recommend ways for the two agencies to work together to improve the health of active duty and veteran populations with regard to tobacco use initiation and cessation.”

According to the report, smoking “adversely affects combat readiness, harms the health and welfare of military families, and costs millions of dollars in health care and lost productivity.”

Of course, getting shot at also has its drawbacks, especially if the rounds being fired in your direction make contact with flesh and bone. Over 5,000 American fatalities in Iraq and Afghanistan; 30,000 plus wounded. And, the anti-smokers appear ignorant of the fact that wars that cost hundreds of billions of dollars dwarf the alleged costs of tobacco use.

The report notes that smoking prevalence in the military, at 32%, is considerably higher than in the civilian population at 20%. And, smoking prevalence, they say, has been increasing in the military over the past decade, especially in combat zones. “The prevalence of smoking is over 50% higher in military personnel who have been deployed than in those who have not, and an increasing number of service members use smokeless tobacco.”

And, how about this little gem: “Many military personnel and veterans have been deployed to war zones or participated in peacekeeping missions in conflict areas, and those experiences may influence tobacco use.” Duh.

How perceptive of them. I wonder how long it took to reach that conclusion. Did they conduct one of their “scientific studies” or was it an intuitive observation; an epiphany perhaps?

For young men and women carrying a weapon, knowing that at any given time they may be required to take the life of another human being or face the prospect of having theirs ended creates intense, sometimes unbearable, levels of stress. Smoking reduces anxiety and stress. In addition, many studies have concluded that nicotine also enhances many cognitive and motor functions.

Incredibly, the report notes that “Nicotine withdrawal can also impair performance as a result of irritability, restlessness, anger, difficulty in concentrating, anxiety, depressed mood and decreased performance on cognitive tests.” Yet they recommend that all branches of military service become smoke-free within the next twenty years.

Admittedly, I’ve read only the preface to the 260 page report. And, as a smoker and a veteran, it’s difficult to read such a report with any degree of objectivity. What kind of Alice in Wonderland world are these people living in?

Do they really intend to use the same tobacco control tactics to create a smoke-free military that they use in the civilian population? Will they push the concept that soldiers have as much to fear from a mate’s secondhand smoke as they do from the enemy?

These young people place their very lives in the hands of their mates. Do they really want them believing that, if the man/woman covering their ass smokes, he/she is some sub-human species who is both undependable and irresponsible?

Do they understand the possible consequences of creating that kind of dissension in the ranks?

Fortunately, they didn’t make reference to smoking causing premature or preventable deaths, at least in the small portion of the report I read. Such reference would likely have raised my blood pressure to life-threatening levels.

It’s bizarre. How will they sustain recruitment which is already at dangerously low levels? Will they really try to convince people that, if only they could get rid of the smokers, the non-smokers will flock to the recruiting stations? Like they did to non-smoking bars?

What will the new recruitment campaigns look like? Will they encourage enlistment with the admonishment that “The Army protects your health by prohibiting tobacco use. Enlist to-day, you may get your ass shot off but you’ll die smoke-free, smelling like a rose.”

The answers to these and other questions are likely contained in the body of the report. And, I will get around to reading it, just as soon as I get my blood pressure under control.

Of course, there’s a slim chance I’ll wake up and find this is really some kind of surrealistic nightmare.

Note: You can read Colin Grainger’s take on the report at Freedom2Choose where I found the link to this perfidy.

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