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Soldiers and cigarettes

October 1, 2008 |  2:55 pm

The armed forces and cigarettes have a long history, going back to World War II. That's when Ancel Keys, a scientist who spent his career studying the relationship between diet and disease, helped the Cig2 military develop an adequate meal suitable for combat. Named K-rations, after Keys, the meal considered sound at the time contained bacon, canned cheese and dextrose tablets. For relaxation, the military threw in gum and cigarettes, triggering massive nicotine addiction in young GIs.

The post-war tragedy unfolded over decades as smoking by WWII veterans led to a nine-fold increase in lung cancer deaths by 1980.

Cigarettes are no longer freebies in field K-rations, but the nicotine addiction rate in the military is still sky high, according to a news release put out by the University of Wisconsin's Center for Tobacco Research and Intervention.

"Soldiers are going to war zones in Iraq," says Dr. Michael Fiore, head of the center, "and, God willing, they survive the imminent risks of that deployment. But they often return addicted to tobacco -- a powerful addiction that puts them at risk for collateral damage for the rest of their lives."

By about the mid-1970s, military officials realized that smoking did more than relax soldiers. Soldiers who smoked didn't perfom as well on tests of athletic fitness, they got hurt more often, and they were more likely to fail basic training. Cigarettes were removed from K-rations, smoking was banned indoors and the services began offering smoking-cessation programs. Smoking rates dropped for awhile, but began rising again with the Iraq war.

"Young soldiers are especially vulnerable to the risks of tobacco," says Fiore. "Smoking is still normative in the military."

In civilian life, fewer than 20% of Americans smoke. Overall in the military, abut 33% of soldiers smoke, and about half of the men and women deployed to Iraq smoke.

"The one critically important fact is this: for returning military personnel, in most cases, it is still early enough to alter the course of health damage resulting from smoking and, hopefully, prevent any permanent heart and lung damage," Fiore says.

--Susan Brink

Photo: Annie Wells / Los Angeles Times

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Comments (17)

I'd give these guys and gals whatever they wanted just to survive what they must endure. War is not a fair game in the first place...why would anyone say social rules should be part of that game?

hey when i was in the marines {77-83} it seemed like everybody smoked but it was more because of the boredom then

Fewer than 20% of civilian American's smoke? How come 90%
of the people ahead of me in line at convenience stores buy
tobacco and lottery tickets?

I dunno ...A47 in hand, fifty pounds of gear, 102 degrees in the shade,lunch boxes on the side of the road that explodes and blows your best friends entrails in your face. Suddenly that cigarette doesn't seem so bad.

Cigarettes should still be free to our soldiers, with bullets whizzing by, I doubt seriously that anyone can preach to them the health effects; a cigarette might be just what a guy wants after a brush with death. I don't approve of smoking, but I do approve of giving our soldiers everything within reason that will make some gain towards the slightest hint of comfort.

I would be more concerned with service members being exposed to depleted uranium on a daily basis. I would think that would be more dangerous than a couple of cigarettes a day. The military needs to refocus it's priorities in that matter. No one will ever succeed in getting the entire world to quit smoking!

Cigarettes (or cigars) are a great appetite suppressor and it helps keep ones hands busy.

'Soldiers and Cigarettes' is just another hit piece in the hate-campaign against smokers. The Greeks and the Japanese smoke much more than Americans, yet they are healthier and live longer. If the hate-propaganda against smokers were true, then this would not be the case. It is the overly processed and refined carbohydrate diet which is marketed by Big Food corporations that is responsible for the illness and disease that is falsely blamed on smoking.

Good grief. Did the reporter do five minutes research? Took the cigarets out of K-rats in the '70s? My foot. MREs were in use by then.

There was more than a single K-ration meal, most of which had neither cheese nor bacon.

The one critically important fact is that these young people are at risk for being shot at. Homeshore do-gooders should get off their backs, let them get what pleasure they can while in danger. We've got service people in that desert rathole serving their fifth tours, with no exit in sight and some dingbat wants to worry about their smoking.

Idea: work on effective methods of stopping smoking for relatively short term smokers, to be used for the serve people who come home safe and smoking. Quit adding to the stress of those in combat areas with stupid do-good notions.

Back when I was a young Sailor working the flight deck of the USS America many of my friends were smokers. They would offer a cigarette to me and I would decline, this was an on going thing. Finally one day I was offered one which I accepted. Standing there in front of him I took out my pocket knife
Split the cigarette open dumped the tobacco out and said that was good can I have another? Needless to say I was never offered another.

It is massively wrong to say that massive nicotine addiction in young soldiers was triggered by cigarettes being included in K-rations. My uncle was one of those young soldiers and he died of emphysema at the age of 56. He did NOT get addicted to smoking during his courageous service during WWII. He started smoking as a young child years before WWII. There was a fallen log in the woods behind their house where he would go to smoke out of sight of my grandparents. My grandfather knew all about it but he did not stop him to avoid hypocrisy, as he also was a heavy smoker. The fact is that all most everyone used tobacco in those days. I am a non-smoker, but if the government sent me to a place where goods and services were hard to come by, and I had to eat rations that they furnished, I would consider it thoughtful and accomodating to find chewing gum and cigarettes included. Since I do not use those products, I would just hand them to someone nearby who does use them.

By the time I left the Navy after almost 9 years, I was smoking 3 packs a day, plus cigars and a pipe. I read an article that informed me that if I quit smoking by the time I was 40, then my lungs would have recovered by the time I was 60--plus other health benefits. I quit cold-turkey. The nicotine withdrawal was painful. I have been 'smoke free' now for almost 30 years, but I still have a spurt of saliva when I think about the pleasures of tobacco. And, like Joseph Alsop , I find that it is more difficult to write without a cigarette burning in an ashtray nearby...only I did not go back to smoking as he did.

What is wrong with you people? Don't you get it tobacco is bad for you. It is the number one preventable cause of death and disability in the world. It kills more that 5 million people a year. These soldiers are more likely to die a tobacco related death than form any war injury.

More importantly perhaps is that their decrease in performance puts them and others at risk. Read the research before you even start to comment on this. That is why tobacco use is banned in basic training for all the armed forces. Unfortunately, after basic training many take up the disgusting habit again.

Who do you think pays for veteran tobacco related admission to the VA hospitals? Yup, you and I the American Tax payers.

To top it all we allow soldiers to purchase tobacco at cheaper prices in comisaries than the general public. How does that help?

Analysis of internal tobacco industry documents, searches of government and military websites and newspaper databases, and interviews with key informants identified in the documents.
Results: Efforts to raise commissary tobacco prices began in the mid-1980s. Opposition quickly emerged. Some military officials viewed tobacco use as a ‘‘right’’ and low prices as a ‘‘benefit’’. Others raised issues of authority,
and some saw the change as threatening the stores. The tobacco industry successfully exploited complex relationships among the Congress, the DoD, commissaries, exchanges and private industry, obstructing change
for over a decade. Leadership from the Secretary and Assistant Secretaries of Defense, presidential support and procedural manoeuvring finally resulted in a modest price increase in 1996, but even then, high-level military
officials were apparently threatened with retaliation from pro-tobacco Congressmen.

Conclusions: The longstanding military tradition of cheap cigarettes persists because of the politics of the military sales system, the perception within the military of tobacco use as a right, and tobacco industry
pressures. Against its own best interests, the US military still makes tobacco available to service members at prices below those in the civilian sector.

Obesity is the number one preventable cause of death in the USA. Let's tackle first things first...

Judging by the numerous comments on this article, readers seem a little fuzzy on the concept of freedom.

They attempt to rationalize their dictatorial attitude towards tobacco users by pretending that tobacco usage increases health care costs. In point of fact, the exact opposite is true.

According to a Dutch study, health care costs are 5% lower for smokers than for non-smokers. Why? Because smokers die sooner, thus avoiding very expensive old age health care costs. And that doesn't even take into account the savings in Social Security benefits. The government should be paying us to smoke.

True, early death is a valid reason to quit smoking, but there is no valid economic rationalization for tobacco dictatorship.

But then, it isn't about dictatorship, or even (arguably less evil) benevolent dictatorship. In the end, it is about something infinitely less noble. Every time government, (at whatever level) needs money, they raise tobacco taxes.

In the end, it is just simply about theft.

First of all I am for freedom to use tobacco. but what I don't get is people always talk about "drug money"... But basically the government makes 40 billion dollars a year on tobacco taxes plus all the other offenders like alcohol etc. then they spend a couple billion a year on anti-smoking campaigns to clear their conscience. STUPID AND IGNORANT

Nicotine addiction is an uncontrollable dependence on the highly addictive nicotine stimulant present in tobacco products. Nicotine alters the levels of certain chemicals in the brain that causes smokers to experience pleasurable changes to mood and concentration. When a smoker stops smoking they crave the nicotine effects and can suffer withdrawal symptoms such as anxiety, depression and irritable.


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