While the percentage of U.S. adults who smoke has continued to steadily decrease over the last few years, the percentage of young U.S. veterans who smoke remains as high as that of the U.S. adult population during the late 1960s and early 1970s.
Recent data from the Center for Disease Control (CDC) suggests that smoking may even be increasing among active duty military personnel despite rates of smoking dropping in civilian populations.
Service members and veterans self-report that smoking can be a way to cope with the stress of combat or deal with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The rate of smoking among individuals with PTSD is believed to be around 40 percent.
Smoking among military personnel who have been deployed is 50 percent higher than those who have not.
Veterans are also more likely than civilians to have experienced workplace exposure to second-hand smoke due to the high number of smokers around them during their service. In fact, smoking aboard military submarines was not banned until 2010.
Smoking in the Military
The history of smoking in the military began during World War I when cigarettes began to be distributed free to servicemembers. Right up until 1975, cigarettes were even included in rations.
Smoking was thought to boost troop morale and advertisements targeting family members strongly encouraged them to send cigarettes to their deployed relatives.
As recently as the Gulf War, the tobacco industry was providing troops with free cigarettes, welcome home events, and other incentives.
The relationship between smoking and military service continues today. A recent study noted that 52 percent of those deployed in one battalion doing combat operations in Iraq smoked.
To this day, untaxed cigarettes are available for purchase in commissaries and exchanges. The proceeds from those sales are used to fund Morale, Welfare, and Recreation (MWR) programs.
Health Risks of Smoking
The Department of Defense (DoD) has made several attempts to ban smoking, even declaring that the military would reduce smoking rates to 12 percent or less by 2010. Today, the rate continues to hover just under 30 percent.
Studies have shown that smoking during military service is associated with increased cigarette consumption for life. Around 2015, nearly three in ten U.S. veterans were current users of tobacco products.
Every year, more than 400,000 Americans die from tobacco-related illnesses. In 1995, the DoD reported that one-sixth of deaths in the military population were caused by smoking-related diseases.
What can current or former service members do to get proactive about their health?
Two of the most important things to do are to get screened for lung cancer and quit smoking if you haven’t already.
When you quit smoking, your body will begin to recover from its harmful effects within minutes. After just 20 minutes, your heart rate and blood pressure will improve. Just a month later, any coughing and shortness of breath will start to decrease.
In two to five years your risk of stroke will drop to that of a non-smoker. And ten years after quitting, your risk of death from lung cancer is recused to about half of that of a smoker. It’s never too late to quit smoking. Quitting at any age can improve your health and extend your life.
Whether you currently smoke or are a former smoker, you should likely be screened for lung cancer. Lung cancer is most treatable in the early states so cancer screenings are of vital life-saving importance.
Most often, symptoms of lung cancer aren’t noticeable until the disease has progressed to an advanced stage.
A low-dose CT screening for lung cancer is quick and painless.
For information about New Hanover Regional Medical Center (NHRMC)’s lung cancer screenings, click here.
Smoking Cessation Classes
NHRMC is here to help you quit and we offer free Smoking Cessation Classes. The hour-long class will provide you with a plan and solutions to common problems smokers face while quitting.
Class participants may also get nicotine replacement products at a reduced cost through the NHRMC Outpatient Pharmacy.
This Veterans Day, take a step towards freedom from smoking and its associated health risks.