Military Advantage

Getting Unhooked from Military's Old Smoking Culture


Philpott’s Forum presents questions, opinions and insights from readers of Tom Philpott’s Military Update news column. Today's forum focuses on the DoD's efforts to curb tobacco use and the impact of reducing commissary benefits.

I retired from the Navy as a Command Master Chief in 1993 after 28 years' service. I started smoking in boot camp in 1965. The drill instructors gave regular smoke breaks. If you did not smoke, you did not get a break.

At the peak of my smoking habit, while deployed to Viet Nam, I smoked up to four packs of unfiltered cigarettes per day. The monetary cost was negligible. It took six tries to quit smoking. I finally stopped for good in 1980.

In 1993, during my last tour as Command Master Chief on board USS Mount Vernon (LSD-39), I eliminated smoking in the Chief's Mess and berthing areas due to cigarette ashes in the food in the chow line as well as other problems. The commanding officer fully backed me up.

We received a new CO - a smoker - in the spring of 1993. He asked me what I thought about eliminating smoking within the skin of the ship. I said it was a great idea, I would support him fully but there would be a lot of initial complaints. He did. I did. And there were.

Mount Vernon was one of the very first ships in the Navy to implement such strict policies.

I not only strongly support eliminating tobacco subsidies, I strongly support pushing for a smoke free military.

JAMES E. SINCLAIR Command Master Chief, USN-Ret. Via email

Cutting tobacco sales in Navy exchanges is one more reason stores will lose customers. Prices at Costco, Walmart and other local stores are already competitive. But the drive to save on tobacco has made the difference. Losing these sales will also impact funding for Morale, Welfare and Recreation activities, which overall support better fitness and health.

LOYD WILLIAMSON Sergeant First Class, USA-Ret. Via email

Our benefits are getting slimmer.

Obama is against cigarettes, and so am I, but he doesn't want them sold anymore on base because of our health?

What about all the alcohol bases sell, and soft drinks and junk food? Where does it stop?

Base stores are open to make money. The only thing that will change if cigarettes are removed is the profits will go to commercial companies. I suggest they post a large sign listing the health hazards of smoking, and otherwise leave the products alone.

TONI S. Via email

Here’s my take on Navy Secretary Ray Mabus’ unilateral plan to stop selling cigarettes on installations and ships.

In this era of political correctness, some proponent always wants to infringe on rights of the rest of us. Do-gooders are so staunch in their beliefs they forget that not everyone lives by their standards.

There is never a whisper about closing liquor stores that serve the military. How about removing all the fast-food joints? Those aren’t good for our health either. But compare smoking versus alcohol. If I smoke a cigarette, I don’t get any kind of a ‘high’ that impairs judgment. If I get drunk, my judgment would be vastly impaired. Drunks, not smokers, tend to get into fights, abuse spouses and children and engage in dangerous, rash and risky behaviors.

It’s not that I’m a proponent of smoking; I’m a proponent of freedom of choice. It’s one reason we put our lives on the line.

K. MCCOLLUM USN-Ret. Via email

I encourage the Navy to end on-base tobacco sales. This is a no-brainer and should have occurred a long time ago.

If the military finally moves into the age of discouraging use of tobacco products, why make them available, convenient and at a discount to team members?

PHIL KONIGSBERG Smoke-free Community Advocate Queens Tobacco Control Coalition New York City

The day they cancel the sale of cigarettes at exchanges will be the last day I or my family ever buy anything there.

What about alcohol? What about junk food? What about fried food? Why not ban sugar and salt? C. YEY Via email

This is getting really tiresome defending our commissary prices and our tobacco discounts after we ourselves have defended our country.

Someone should take a long, hard look and realize that as smokers we pay more taxes and have fewer rights. What is wrong with this picture? Please, be thankful for your freedoms. Freedoms we fought for.


LOSS FOR YOUNG FAMILIES Thank you for the informative article on potential changes to commissaries. It saddens me to think that our young Marines on Marine Corps Station Cherry Point and Camp LeJeune (N.C.) will have to pay more for their food or see their commissary closed.

In many cases, without transportation, these young men and women walk to the commissary and buy their food, then walk back to their barracks and enjoy a good meal in their rooms. They can't afford to go out in town, unless a friend has a vehicle to take them, and then the cost of a meal is going to be higher. The other option is to have the military provide a vehicle to take them out to a food store or a restaurant. It is sad that Secretary Hagel and our president don't understand the damage they are going to do to younger, single military members.

I spent 32 years in the Navy as a pilot. I remember one time payday was delayed by a day. It meant we weren't going to eat that day. That was a long time ago but it still stings to think the country gave up that day on me and my family.

EDWARD FAHY Rear Admiral, USN(ret) Havelock, N.C.

This is commissary proposal is disgusting. Many areas of government spending can be cut rather than hurt military families.

When is the administration and Congress going to wake up and run the country as we voted for them to do?

It is time we make our votes count and get the new school people in rather than life politicians who hang on and do nothing.

RICH COREY Master Chief Torpedoman, USN-Ret. Smithfield, Va.

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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

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