Tobacco Prices on Base Go Up Under Defense Spending Bill


On base tobacco product prices will likely increase thanks to a measure in the 2015 National Defense Authorization Act that is expected to be approved by Congress before Christmas.

Currently, tobacco on base is priced at no less than 5 percent below the lowest price off base, according to military policy. However, that policy seems to be often ignored by many bases, according to a study released earlier this year, and prices on base are often much lower.

Under new rules in the 2015 National Defense Authorization Act, which is expected to be passed by Congress before Christmas, that's about to change for all services except the Navy, which already holds the new rule. The bill specifically prohibits tobacco products be sold at a "price below the most competitive price for that product in the local community."

It is not clear what methodology is used by military exchange officials for determining price points for their stores. But following previous pricing rules have been a matter of adhering to DoD policy. The new rule is instead part of the law governing DoD operations.

A study released in April by the Institute for Biobehavioral Health Research of Leawood, Kansas compared 2013 prices at local Walmarts for Marlboro Red to those on base. That study found stores on Air Force bases set prices an average of 14 percent below Walmart while Army bases set prices an average of 17 percent below Walmart.

In 2012, military store tobacco sales brought $125.7 million in profits.

The bill isn't all bad news for tobacco users. A provision added by House lawmakers blocks the Defense Department from any new tobacco sale bans on military installations or ships. Pre-existing policies, such as a Navy rule banning cigarettes on submarines, are safe under the provision.

Military leaders and some lawmakers toyed early this year with a ban of tobacco sales on bases and ships after military health officials again highlighted the health impacts those products have on service members.

In March, Jonathan Woodson, the assistant secretary of Defense for Health Affairs, sent a memo to the services warning that tobacco use "undercuts military readiness and harms individual performance."

Woodson wrote that the "prominence of tobacco products in (military) retail outlets, and permission for smoking breaks while on duty, sustain the perception that we are not serious about reducing the use of tobacco."

The bill blocks any such ban. Military officials "may not take any action to implement any new policy that would ban the sale of any ... tobacco product," the bill states.

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at

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