Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel gave his support Monday to moves by the services to consider banning tobacco sales on bases and ships.
"I think it does need to be looked at," Hagel said at a Pentagon briefing. "I don’t know if anybody in America still thinks that tobacco is good for you."
In a memo last month, acting defense Undersecretary for Personnel Jessica Wright said that base commissaries and post exchanges "where we allow tobacco purchases to be made, as well as the need to consider tobacco-free installations, are all matters that require our near-term attention."
Navy officials said that a ban on tobacco sales on bases and ships was under consideration but there was no timeline for a decision.
In a letter to Navy Secretary Ray Mabus last week, five Democratic senators urged him "to increase smoke-free areas on bases" and give sailors more access to programs to stop smoking.
"We urge you to do everything in your capacity to address this issue for our military men and women, including moving forward with the proposal to stop the sale of tobacco aboard all naval bases and ships," said the letter from Sens. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., Dick Durbin, D-Ill., Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, Jack Reed, D-R.I., and Sherrod Brown D-Ohio.
"This is something we need to look at," Hagel said of programs to curb smoking and limit tobacco sales. He noted that related health care problems from smoking cost the Defense Department more than $1 billion annually.
According to a 2011 University of California San Francisco study, more than 30 percent of U.S. troops smoke, compared to about 20 percent for the civilian population, and the 18-25 group in the military was the most likely to pick up the habit.
-- Richard Sisk can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org