Sunday, July 12, 2009

Smoke Em If You Got Em

When I first joined the military, our MRE's still came with a couple of cigarettes in them. One of my drill sergeants smoked cigarettes, and another chewed Red Man. At language school, smokers were allowed to smoke in the breezeways of the building so they didn't have to go down to the ground floor to smoke. At my first permanent party station, smoking had to be done outside in a designated area, but that rule was recent enough that our computer terminals still had ash residue in the built-in ashtrays. Tobacco, along with alcohol, was sold at a discount due to the lack of local taxes, in the PX.

Over time, restrictions on tobacco use became stronger. All smoking in the barracks was outlawed, and all smoking had to be done in designated areas several meters from all buildings. The Army promoted smoking cessation through free support groups and nicotine replacements such as gum and patches. If an officer or NCO quit smoking this was noted as self-improvement on their personnel evaluations.

When I went to Bosnia, we had the first round of General Order 1. Basically, we were back in high school when it came to personal recreation. All the work out and Monopoly you could take. No alcohol, no sex, no naughty fun at all. The only thing that we had was tobacco. I didn't indulge, mainly because tobacco that's worth smoking is expensive. But it was there, and a lot of people enjoyed a smoke every once in a while. Yeah, it was bad for them, but a lot of their other vices had been denied.

Now some policy makers in the Pentagon are suggesting that the military stop selling tobacco on installations and outlaw the use of tobacco by military personnel. I can see their point. Tobacco is bad for you and those around you. The military has an interest in the health of their soldiers. Everyone has to take a cardio test of some kind every so often, and smoking can't help in doing well on it. Also, the cost of treating tobacco related illnesses isn't low.

But let the troops have a smoke. Any time someone in the military leaves for a deployment, they lose a lot of the things that they enjoy. They lose the right to have a beer with their friends to blow off steam. They lose the right to sex, which anyone will tell you is fun and a great way to relieve stress. Their movements, due to military necessity, are restricted to a very small universe. Some camps are only a couple of tents or bunkers, and some troops rarely go outside the wire. Those who do go outside the wire do so in very stressful circumstances, and when they get back to base, if they're lucky all they will have is a gym and maybe a rec tent with movies and video games. So a lot of them have gotten the habit of having a smoke with their friends. Yes, it's bad for them, but it's the only vice they have left.

Come on, Secretary Gates. Don't take the last guilty pleasure our troops have left. For those of you out there who care, please contact your congresscritters and let them know that our soldiers deserve to make the decision about tobacco themselves.

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