Smoke ’em if you’ve got ’em

GIs, Marines and others, taking a break from tough and dangerous duty, will still be able to light up a cigarette, thanks to a decision this week by Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.

Gates did the right thing.

In doing so, Gates rejected a recommendation contained in a Pentagon-commissioned study. That study urged the Pentagon to ban all tobacco products on military bases and to prohibit military personnel from smoking while in uniform — even if they are in combat.

As a spokesman for the defense secretary said, U.S. armed service personnel in Iraq and Afghanistan “are under enormous stress and strain, and the secretary does not want to compound that stress by taking away from them one of the few outlets they have to relieve that stress.”

That doesn’t mean the military should encourage smoking and, in fact, it doesn’t. Gone
are the days when the Army routinely included packs of Lucky Strikes in soldiers’ rations. Gates said he will pursue the recommendation to move toward a smoke-free military.

The Pentagon report is undoubtedly correct that tobacco use in the military — both smoking and smoke-free products — creates problems for the military by causing cancer, heart disease and other problems.

But ending the use of tobacco among the military should begin with education and efforts to prevent smoking among new military personnel. It should not involve taking smokes away from people working in harm’s way on behalf of their country,  men and women involved in some of the most stressful situations they’ll ever be in during their entire lives.


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