Smoking, the military, and your health
By Capt. Prescott McWilliams, 8th Medical Dental Squadron
/ Published August 06, 2019
KUNSAN AIR BASE, Republic of Korea --
Substance use and abuse is a major concern to the health, resiliency and readiness of our nation’s military. Among the many products that may be used and lead to addictive behaviors, tobacco stands out for its legality, availability, history with the military, status with Congress and lobbyists and low prices on military installations. Tobacco and the military have a long, entwined history, from Gen. MacArthur and his corncob pipe to Gen. LeMay’s cigars. However, public health studies show us that tobacco has several detrimental effects on our ability to be warfighters.
Tobacco and nicotine use has detrimental effects on physical fitness, healing ability and is related to a higher prevalence of physical injury, mental health disorders and financial pressure. The prevalence of smoking in the military has been shown to be slightly higher than that in the general population, and experiences common to the military, such as deployment to austere or challenging environments, have been shown to increase tobacco use above that of the non-deployed military population.
Additional nicotine-containing products have gained popularity in recent years and have not been studied as thoroughly. Notably, electronic cigarettes (whether you call them e-cigarettes, e-cigs and vaping) are occupying an increasing share of the tobacco market and advertising spaces, especially in military magazines and base commissaries. While it will take time to evaluate the long-term effects of these new products, initial evaluations show they have fewer harmful contents than traditional cigarettes. However, many serious injuries have occurred from e-cigarette use, related to impurities in the vaping liquid, or defects that can cause the e-cig battery to explode during use!
The end to tobacco and nicotine use is a particularly important health goal in the military, to help improve the physical and mental readiness of the total force. One of the popular reasons for e-cigarette use is to aid in lowering or ending tobacco or nicotine, but there are not many studies that show it may be supportive in that effort. In fact, other studies show that e-cigarette use may even decrease the success rate of a quit attempt! However, even with the aim of quitting in mind, e-cig use comes with exposure to dangerous and impure chemicals and a potential ignition source an inch in front of your face.
If you are considering a change to lessen or cease a tobacco or nicotine habit, call the 8th MDG at 782-2273 or 782-2778 to schedule an appointment. We are happy to discuss safer and proven strategies to decrease your dependence, increase your resiliency and help you become better prepared to be ready for the fight!