Tobacco letter

Anti-tobacco advocates including APHA, the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, American Lung Association, American Heart Association and Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids support a provision that would direct the Secretary of Defense to eliminate price discounting for tobacco products sold in commissaries and exchanges. Photo by Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids

Should tobacco use be encouraged for members of the U.S. military through reduced prices? While the Department of Defense debates the question this week, APHA and other anti-tobacco advocates signed on to a letter that answers with a resounding, “No.”

The response — to a proposal from Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., to eliminate tobacco price discounts for products sold at commissaries and exchanges — comes before this week’s deliberation of the fiscal year 2015 DoD appropriations bill. Currently, DoD allows prices of tobacco on military installations be within 5 percent of the local community price, but prices of cigarettes are actually discounted up to 73 percent on some military bases.

Data on tobacco users in the military also show:

  • between 36 and 40 percent of current military service members who smoke started after they joined the military, compared to 10 percent of the general population;
  • smoking rates in 2011 were higher for personnel in the Navy (24.4 percent), Army (26.7 percent) and Marines (30.8 percent), compared to the general population (19 percent of adults); and
  • tobacco use costs DoD an estimated $1.6 billion in annual medical costs and lost work time.

The U.S. Navy has already ended tobacco discounts at Navy and Marine Corps exchanges.

“Price has a significant impact on the number of people who start using tobacco products and encourages current tobacco users to quit,” the letter states. “Numerous economic studies have indicated that price impacts both adult and underage smoking and that every 10 percent increase in the real price of cigarettes will reduce prevalence of adult smoking by approximately 1 to 2 percent and reduce teen smoking by about 6 to 7 percent.”