The Navy is pushing ahead toward eliminating tobacco sales on all its bases and ships, as well as all Marine Corps facilities, according to sources inside and outside the Pentagon. Officials are reportedly considering removing tobacco from all sales venues, to include any exchange-operated retail outlets, as well as MWR-operated retail outlets where is possible to buy cheap cigarettes. Six commissaries on Navy bases currently sell tobacco products.
Changes may be coming to the other services, too. A Defense Department memo dated March 14 that was obtained by Military Times encourages the services to eliminate tobacco sales — and even tobacco use — on military bases, although it stops short of ordering specific actions.
“Structural reforms in how and where we allow tobacco purchases to be made, as well as the need to consider tobacco-free installations, are all matters that require our near-term attention,” stated the memo, signed by Jessica Wright, acting undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, and Dr. Jonathan Woodson, assistant secretary of defense for health affairs.
DoD spokeswoman Army Lt. Col. Cathy Wilkinson said the department “is in the initial stages of reviewing its tobacco policies” and emphasized that “no decisions on any possible or potential changes have been made.” However, in a Thursday interview with Military Times, Navy Secretary Ray Mabus said he and his senior staff are taking a “deliberate approach” in considering a “whole range” of initiatives regarding tobacco, although he did not offer specifics.
“We demand that sailors and Marines be incredibly fit,” Mabus said. “We know tobacco hurts that fitness. We know the cost of health care far exceeds any profits we could possibly make selling that.”
The effort is part of a broader campaign to increase resiliency, he said. “We’re taking steps to up the fitness across the board and looking at what those next steps will be.” The Navy’s plan is already drawing opposition from at least one lawmaker on Capitol Hill.
“While I recognize the Navy believes removing tobacco products would help in ‘maximizing the readiness’ of sailors and Marines, it’s my belief that the Navy should worry less about intruding on the personal decision-making of these same sailors and Marines, while creating added burdens in the process,” Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., a Marine Corps veteran who serves on the House Armed Services Committee, wrote in a letter to Mabus Friday.
Banning on-base sales of tobacco “limit — and in some cases restrict — access to legal products that service men and women choose to purchase on their own,” Hunter wrote. “Overall, removing tobacco sales is perceived more as a political decision, intended to make a point, than it is a decision that supports our sailors and Marines — regardless of personal feelings on the individual and legal use of tobacco products. “Having spent time around Marines and sailors through multiple deployments, I believe there are far more immediate priorities for the Navy and the Marine Corps, all of which require your leadership and attention,” Hunter told Mabus.