Hunter wants free tobacco for military
Congressman says new FDA policy shouldn’t stop tobacco companies from donating tobacco to service members
Rep. Duncan Hunter says he doesn’t want a new federal policy to stop companies from donating tobacco products — specifically cigars — to members of the military.
In a letter to the Food and Drug Administration, Hunter, R-Alpine, said he wants new administration rules clarified to better explain if tobacco manufacturers and distributors can make such donations.
“Tobacco manufacturers and distributors have long taken part in a time-honored tradition of donating tobacco products to service members, often while deployed. These donations routinely improve morale and service to relieve stress,” said Hunter, a Marine reservist.
“It would be unacceptable for the FDA to prohibit the distribution of tobacco products to service members who are fighting to protect those very rights that may now be restricted,” Hunter wrote in the Thursday letter.
Hunter’s letter was sent the same day a series of new FDA regulations took effect, including one that bars tobacco companies from giving away their products or face fines. According to various reports, some manufacturers are interpreting this provision as not only a ban on free samples, but on charitable donations as well. The Tampa Bay Times reported that some cigar brands, like Thompson Cigar Co. and J.C. Newman, said they’ll no longer give their wares to service members.
Hunter, an artillery officer with three combat deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan, said he used tobacco in combat zones, despite the health risks.
“You, or anyone else there who doesn’t care to go fight, or wants me to do it for you, I get to smoke cigars,” he said.
Tobacco helps service members calm their nerves, relax, and function better in high-stress situations, he said.
“Why put me under undue stress?” he said.
And he said he’s not concerned about the potentially deadly health problems that tobacco use causes, or the cost of caring for veterans with tobacco-related diseases.
“I don’t care. When it comes to guys overseas fighting, I don’t care,” he said.
The military removed cigarettes from field rations more than 40 years ago and it’s been over six decades since the first surgeon general warning appeared on cigarettes.
The Defense Department has long tried to get service members to kick their nicotine habits. In 2010 the Navy banned smoking on submarines but still allowed sailors to chew smokeless tobacco in the silent service, and continues to keep the smoking lamp lit on all other ships. Two years ago the military considered a ban on the sale of tobacco products on bases and ships, but did not put one into place.
Through this, as a component of comprehensive wellness programs, the military has tried to get service members and their families to stop using tobacco and has offered cessation programs, including nicotine gum, patches and other products.
Despite official efforts, tobacco use in the military is commonplace. According to one Defense Department report, 24 percent of active-duty military use tobacco, compared to 19 percent of civilians. Of the four branches, Marines are the biggest smokers, with 30.8 percent of the service using cigarettes.
According to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report between 2007 and 2010, 29 percent of male veterans ages 25 to 64 smoked, compared to 24 percent of nonveterans.
Tobacco use, the military says, not only creates long-term health problems, but makes deployed forces weaker. In 2014, Dr. Jonathan Woodson, the assistant secretary of defense for health affairs, said that tobacco use affects “dental readiness” and limits the department’s ability to deploy. Additionally, an estimated 171,000 service members who currently use tobacco are likely to die early because of their tobacco habit, he said.
Another Defense Department study found that tobacco-related health expenses also costs the military $1.6 billion per year, just under the cost of a new Arleigh Burke-class destroyer.
Tobacco, inclusive of cigars, has a long and storied history in the military, from Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s corncob pipe to Lucky Strike cigarettes in World War II-era rations and medicinal uses in field medicine. Care packages to service members who deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq were no stranger to tobacco products, and charities often send bulk shipments of cigars as morale boosters.
Hunter said he used tobacco during his three combat deployments, but he now sticks to vaping with e-cigarette products except for the occasional cigar for special occasions.