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The tobacco industry has always had a unique – some might even say special – relationship with the United States military. The relationship began during World War I, when tobacco companies promoted cigarettes to military personnel as a means of relieving boredom and improving morale. Much the same as how makers of chewing tobacco successfully marketed their products to baseball players, cigarette makers targeted military personnel with promotions and product giveaways because they secretly believed that servicemembers had less education, greater peer pressure and poorer job prospects compared to the general public.

The tobacco industry’s promotional techniques worked. As late as the 1970s, free cigarettes were still given to military personnel as part of their daily rations. Even today – after significant tobacco control rules have been implemented in all branches of the military – smoking rates among military personnel remain much higher than among the general public.

As of 2011, 24 percent of those in the military smoked, compared to a smoking rate of 19 percent among civilians. Even more tellingly, 38 percent of servicemembers who smoked reported initiating tobacco use after they enlisted.

More than 1 in 5 military veterans still smoke today.

Clearly, tobacco use in the military – both among active servicemembers and among veterans – is a major issue. It’s one with a cost measurable both in dollars and in lives, and it’s one that agencies around the world – and veteran-owned business like The Vape Bar – are working hard to solve.

Let’s explore the issue further.

Why Is Tobacco Use So Common in the Military?

If you’ve ever worked for a company that allowed employees to take smoke breaks, you already have an idea of why smoking rates in the military are so high. A smoke break is a chance to relieve stress, catch up with your friends and break up the monotony of the day.

Now, take those same factors and apply them to a situation in which the physical challenges are arduous, the environment is often harsh and unforgiving, the peer pressure is relentless and people from vastly different backgrounds are constantly told that they need to assimilate and act as one. Combine all of those factors with the easy availability of tobacco products at below-retail prices, and you have a perfect recipe for a high smoking rate.

Have you ever heard the phrase “smoke ‘em if you got ‘em?” It comes from the military. That phrase has a second part, though, which you might not have heard: “Do pushups if you don’t.”

What Is the Cost of Tobacco Use in the Military?

The federal government pays enormous direct and indirect costs due to smoking in the military. Those costs come in the form of healthcare for the sick and in the form of lost productivity and reduced troop readiness. As of 2014, the Department of Defense paid $1.8 billion yearly to care for those who were ill from tobacco use. The Veterans Health Administration paid a further $2.7 billion yearly to provide care to veterans sick from smoking. Both of those costs pale in comparison to that of the 480,000 Americans who die from smoking each year – many of whom are veterans who picked up the habit while serving and never managed to quit.

Military personnel who smoke may also be at greater risk than the general population of developing chronic lung illnesses. Major studies of thousands of servicemembers deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan found an increased prevalence of chronic lung problems such as asthma and COPD. Smoking is a serious risk factor for triggering or worsening those conditions.

How Can Vaping Improve Health Outcomes for Veterans?

For decades, profitmongering tobacco companies have cynically targeted military personnel in their successful attempts to create new nicotine addicts and improve their bottom lines. Vaping represents the first thing not tied to Big Tobacco or Big Pharma with the potential to improve health outcomes for those addicted to nicotine.

A vaping device uses a coiled heating wire to vaporize a flavored nicotine-infused liquid called e-liquid. Puffing on the device, the user inhales the vapor and experiences a “throat hit” that’s reminiscent of smoking. The vaping device also delivers nicotine, thus providing a substitute for the nicotine delivery of cigarettes while also replacing the flavor, physical sensations and rituals of smoking. Since vaping combats the sources of both physical and psychological addiction in smoking, it has enabled tens of millions of people around the world – many of whom tried and failed to quit with traditional nicotine replacement products – to quit smoking successfully.

Researchers estimate that vaping could be about 95 percent less harmful than smoking. E-cigarette vapor contains no tar, and the potentially dangerous compounds that it does contain are present at significantly lower concentrations than in cigarette smoke.

Is the Government Promoting Vaping in the Military?

Although the FDA admits that e-cigarettes are “potentially less harmful than combustible cigarettes,” the U.S. government has so far been reluctant to encourage smokers to switch. The root of the problem seems to be twofold.

  • The federal law governing the regulation of tobacco products – the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act – was signed into law in 2009, when vaping was in its infancy and was still ignored by the government.
  • The federal government has deemed vaping products to be tobacco products and has tasked the FDA with regulating those products under the provisions of the 2009 law.

At the center of the Tobacco Control Act is the requirement that, after 2007, any new tobacco product must go through an incredibly onerous FDA approval process before it can be sold legally. The application process costs hundreds of thousands of dollars, and to complete the process successfully, the applicant must prove that the product benefits public health.

According to federal law, every vaping product on the market is an unapproved new tobacco product that must begin the FDA approval process by May 2020. The only companies with the funding necessary to create and submit the required applications are those in the tobacco industry. Vaping product manufacturers that don’t submit pre-market applications by May will need to stop selling their products unless the law is somehow changed.

Even the FDA has admitted that the Tobacco Control Act will inevitably result in the removal of most vaping products from the American market. However, they’re also bound to regulate those products according to the letter of the law.

The FDA originally attempted to delay the application deadline for vaping products until 2022. However, a federal court ruled that the delay was unlawful and that the FDA must begin regulating e-cigarettes immediately.

There is one small glimmer of hope. In early 2020, the Trump administration submitted a budget proposal to Congress that would remove tobacco regulatory authority from the FDA and place it in the hands of a new government agency which would be called the Center for Tobacco Products. Presidential budgets never get through Congress without substantial modifications, but moving tobacco regulation to a new agency would make sense in that it could potentially result in vaping products being regulated in a less nonsensical way.

Trump’s budget proposal appears to have little support in Congress so far, which means that this would be an excellent time to contact your representatives and tell them how you feel.