Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel speaks during a March 31 press conference at the Pentagon. Hagel said that he supports a forcewide review of tobacco use and sales on military installations. (Jim Watson / Getty Images)
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said Monday that he supports a forcewide review of tobacco use and sales on military installations.
“I think we owe it to our people,” Hagel said at a Pentagon news conference.
The military’s health care costs attributable to tobacco use are “astounding, well over a billion dollars” a year, Hagel said.
“Dollars are one thing, but the health of your people, I don’t know if you put a price on that. So I do think it needs to be looked at and reviewed,” Hagel said.
“Whether we, in the military, through commissaries [and] PXs, sell or continue to sell tobacco is something that we need to look at. And we are looking at it,” Hagel said.
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.
“The prominence of tobacco products in retail outlets and permission for smoking breaks while on duty sustain the perception that we are not serious about reducing the use of tobacco,” the memo said.
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.”
The Navy is reportedly pushing ahead toward eliminating tobacco sales on all its bases and ships, as well as all Marine Corps facilities.
Staff writer Karen Jowers contributed to this story.