Proposed FDA e-cigarette ban disproportionately impacts veterans and service members

In the politically-charged climate of 2019, there are very few things that our society can universally agree on. Some of the few things we can agree on, however, is that smoking cigarettes is bad for one’s health, and that even when we don’t support a war, we will support the troops. Therefore, it should logically follow that anything that aids active duty service members and military veterans to quit smoking in order to live longer, happier lives, should be encouraged.

Unfortunately, this is where our politically charged climate returns. Despite scientific evidence that the use of electronic cigarettes, commonly known as “vaping,” are “significantly more effective than nicotine replacement treatments” such as patches, gum or other forms of oral nicotine in getting people to quit smoking, the FDA recently proposed a rule prohibiting the sale of e-cigarettes to places where children under the age of 18 can enter.

Politicians should take a stand against this rule by learning more about accessible alternatives for smoking cessation such as e-cigarettes. Importantly, the impacts of smoking disproportionately impact service members and veterans, so limiting successful means to minimizing tobacco usage and assisting people in quitting smoking disproportionately affects service members and veterans as well.

Because of this disproportionate impact, lack of access to products that aid in smoking cessation is not just a public health issue, but also a national security concern. The number of military personnel who smoke remains significantly higher than that of the civilian population, meaning that our military is not performing at optimal health in a time of tense international relations. To this end, according to a study conducted by the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, U.S. troops who were deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan have been reported to smoke at twice the rate of civilians, and veterans of the U.S. military are more likely to be lifelong smokers than their civilian counterparts.

The United States military has a long history with tobacco products. Starting in World War I, cigarettes were provided to soldiers with their rations, causing many service members to become addicted to smoking. Tobacco companies stated that smoking was a way for troops to escape stressful circumstances and improve camaraderie and morale. Despite increasing evidence over the next several decades that tobacco was harmful to service members’ health, the military continued to include cigarettes in rations until 1975.

Although cigarettes are no longer provided directly to service members, the Department of Defense (DoD) is still paying for the impact of its relationship with the tobacco industry. Our tax dollars have funded billions of dollars in direct health care costs for service members and veterans as a result of smoking-related issues, as well as millions more due to lost productivity stemming from those health-care issues, some of which lead to discharge from active service.



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