U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL)

[WASHINGTON, D.C.] – U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL), Vice Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense, released the following statement in response to the Department of Defense’s new Tobacco Policy:

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“The numbers tell the story. Tobacco usage in our military is significantly higher than the rest of America. And that tobacco usage creates serious health problems within our military while reducing troop readiness to defend our nation. The response announced by the Pentagon is good, but not good enough. While the rest of America is attacking Big Tobacco, our military leaders are holding back.”

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In March, at a hearing of the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, Durbin pressed the Surgeons General of the U.S. Army, U.S. Navy, and U.S. Air Force on their response to the high rate of tobacco use among service members. Durbin asked, “When we use the word ‘readiness’ in every other sentence, when talking about our military, the obvious question is: why is it that the rate of tobacco usage in the military is significantly higher than it is in the civilian population?”

Though overall smoking rates are on the decline, tobacco use among military service members remains dramatically higher rate than among their civilian counterparts. In the U.S. Army, 32 percent of soldiers use tobacco, compared with 19 percent of the general adult population. Smoking rates and rates of use of chewing tobacco and “dip” pose significant threats to the well-being of military service members. It has been scientifically demonstrated, for example, that smokers incur a 20 percent longer hospital stay than non-smokers and have double the risk of post-surgical infection when compared with non-smokers.

For the last two years, Durbin has included language in both the Defense Appropriations Bill and the National Defense Authorization Act to eliminate the military’s previously instituted price discount for tobacco products. Studies show that a ten percent increase in cigarette prices reduces consumption by 3 to 7 percent among adults. Yet, before the Durbin-authored provision was signed into law, tobacco sold at military exchanges was subject to a 5 percent discount compared to prices in the local community, and because of lax enforcement and ill-defined community comparisons, discounts were as high as 25 percent off or more.  

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