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SMMC says tobacco ban is a 'shameful idea'

Apr. 13, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
The Corps' top enlisted Marine disagrees with the idea that tobacco products should be banned from base stores.
The Corps' top enlisted Marine disagrees with the idea that tobacco products should be banned from base stores. (Marti Gatlin / Marine Corps)
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The sergeant major of the Marine Corps will fight for Marines’ right to buy and use tobacco products on base, despite Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s full support of a review of the product’s use and sales aboard military installations.

Sgt. Maj. Mike Barrett told Marine Corps Times on April 11 that he thinks banning the sale and use of tobacco on base is a “shameful idea.” Taking away choices from the very people who join the military to defend the Constitution isn’t right by him, he said.

“I’m offended by that,” Barrett said. “We’re going to take away that freedom of choice of something that is legal, yet we’re legalizing marijuana? What the hell are we thinking?”

Barrett said if the military is going to pick on tobacco as a wellness issue, it opens the door for a host of other items approved for sale or use on base to come under review. That could include anything from alcohol to snack cakes, potato chips, energy drinks and sport motorcycles, he said.

“What we do for a living is inherently dangerous,” Barrett said. “Me, personally, I don’t truly believe that they think this is all about wellness.”

The SMMC said he has talked to people across the Defense Department to get his voice heard on this issue, including those in Hagel’s office, the Navy Department and other top enlisted leaders from across the branches.

“They know exactly how I feel about it,” he said. “I’m not going to be quiet about it. I may be told to shut up and stay inside the lines while I color, but I’m not buying into that.”

In March, a Defense Department memo was sent out that encouraged the services to stop tobacco sales and use aboard military installations. It stated that the prominence of tobacco products in base exchanges and commissaries — along with the permission for on-duty smoke breaks — implies that the department is not serious about reducing the use of tobacco.

But Barrett still contends it should be a Marine’s right to choose. The Corps already educates Marines on the hazards of using tobacco or making other unhealthy choices, he said. It has tobacco cessation programs that even give Marines the chance to use tools like nicotine patches and gum for free.

But there’s value in letting Marines decide to quit on their own, he added.

“We all know tobacco ... [is] not good for your body, I got it,” he said. “But neither is any of that other stuff I just said. Choice is discipline, too. Let them be the ones to decide.”

Marine Corps Times also sat down with Barrett on April 11. The interview will be published in a Q&A format in this week’s paper (out on newstands April 14), as well as on MarineCorpsTimes.com Prime.

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