Military health officials have set an ambitious goal: to have all Department of Defense installations tobacco-free by the year 2020.
That’s one part of a larger effort to cut tobacco use among service members and veterans, said Col. John Oh, Health Promotion chief at the Air Force Medical Support Agency.
Tobacco has long been known to cause lung cancer and heart disease, and its use within the military has decreased over time. Yet many service members continue to use some form of nicotine, and about 24 percent are current smokers, according to the 2011 Department of Defense Health Related Behaviors Survey of Active Duty Military Personnel.
There are large disparities in tobacco use between officers and enlisted service members, Oh explained. Those who start using tobacco are usually younger and at the low end of the pay scale. Tobacco products sold at commissaries are taxed at a discounted rate, making them easy for service members to purchase and affordable.
“When looking at a comprehensive tobacco control program, it includes several elements working together,” Oh said. The military’s four lines of approach include reforming tobacco pricing at commissaries, expanding tobacco-free environments with a goal that all DOD installations will be tobacco-free by 2020, sustaining an effective counter-promotional tobacco campaign, and improving the effectiveness of clinical tobacco cessation efforts.
The DOD has already implemented a variety of programs to help service members and veterans quit tobacco or keep them from starting the habit. The Quit Tobacco campaign located at www.ucanquit2.org, for example, educates the military community and provides help with quitting tobacco. Service members and veterans also have access to tobacco clinical services that include counseling, a 24-hour quit (phone) line and various medications.
Mental health professionals are “well poised to be agents of change” in the war against tobacco, said Dr. Miles McFall, director of outpatient mental health services at the VA Puget Sound Health Care System.
“They are already trained to treat behavioral and substance use disorders, which is applicable to nicotine dependence,” he said.
Tobacco use can worsen symptoms in people with post-traumatic stress disorder, said McFall, who has researched the topic of tobacco cessation among veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Veterans with PTSD smoke at twice the national rate and have a more difficult time quitting. Helping them quit tobacco reduces their risk of depression, suicide, anxiety and stress, while improving their quality of life.
For more information on healthy living, visit DOD’s Operation Live Well at www.health.mil/livewell.