Military Advantage

Navy Considers Ending On-Base Tobacco Sales

tom-phipottBy Tom Philpott Exchanges have relied heavily on sale of tobacco products for profits. Most commissaries also sell cigarettes but on consignment from the exchanges. In fiscal 2012, tobacco sales in military stores totaled $711.4 million, generating profits of $125.7 million.

Inspired by the recent decision by CVS Caremark pharmacies to pull tobacco products off its shelves, Navy Secretary Ray Mabus is preparing to announce soon he will end tobacco sales on Navy and Marine Corps bases and in ship stores by September. Proponents say it would end the hypocrisy of selling tobacco conveniently and at deep discounts while encouraging service members and families to stay healthy and fit.

If Mabus executes his plan, shopper traffic on bases would fall, further straining exchange profits. Yet AAFES would be under intense pressure to follow the Navy lead, which would make their own sales more anemic.

The Navy Department has taken other steps to discourage tobacco use, arguing it drives up medical costs and drives down individual readiness. In 2012 it narrowed discounts on cigarettes sold on base. Later that year, the submarine community became the first to ban smoking across its fleet.

Defense health officials strongly support such actions. The department estimates it spends more than $1.6 billion a year on tobacco-related medical care, from higher hospitalization rates to lost workdays. Christopher K. Haddock with the Institute for Biobehavioral Health Research, co-author of several articles on military cigarette pricing and impact on health policy, agrees that Mabus is putting rounds on target.

“Availability and price have always been two of the biggest drivers of tobacco use. Study after study has shown that,” Haddock said. As long as base stores not only sell tobacco but at a discount, “it sends a message that the military must not be serious about tobacco and health because they’re making it convenient and cheap.” Send comments to Military Update, P.O. Box 231111, Centreville, VA, 20120, email milupdate@aol.com or twitter: Tom Philpott @Military_Update

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Tom Philpott has been breaking news for and about military people since 1977. After service in the Coast Guard, and 17 years as a reporter and senior editor with Army Times Publishing Company, Tom launched "Military Update," his syndicated weekly news column, in 1994. "Military Update" features timely news and analysis on issues affecting active duty members, reservists, retirees and their families.

Visit Tom Philpott's Military Update Archive to view his past articles.

Tom also edits a reader reaction column, "Military Forum." The online "home" for both features is Military.com.

denied-105-158Tom's freelance articles have appeared in numerous magazines including The New Yorker, Reader's Digest and Washingtonian. His critically-acclaimed book, Glory Denied, on the extraordinary ordeal and heroism of Col. Floyd "Jim" Thompson, the longest-held prisoner of war in American history, is available in hardcover and paperback.

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