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Official: Tobacco Use Poses Dual Health Threat

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

In addition to the widely known impact on respiratory health, tobacco also can negatively affect field operations because it damages military members’ eyesight and ability to smell, said Capt. Kimberly Elenberg, director of medical readiness and training, U.S. Public Health Service. Elenberg made her remarks Tuesday during a family forum presentation at the Association of the U.S. Army’s Annual Meeting and Exposition.

According to Elenberg’s presentation, “Lessons Learned from the Healthy Base Initiative,” tobacco use among U.S. service members is much higher than the national average. About 28 percent of service members under age 25 smoke, compared to almost 19 percent of their civilian counterparts. Elenberg also said 38 percent of military smokers started using tobacco after they went on active duty.

Nicotine hurts more than the body, she said. It attacks the wallet as well. “It costs us about $1.6 billion a year to address” tobacco issues, Elenberg said. “I can tell you that if there is one pot of money the Department of Defense gets, the more we spend on one thing, the less we have to spend on something else.”

Elenberg said the loss of DoD dollars on these and other health issues has a direct correlation on the quality of training and equipment troops receive. Thus, overall force health immediately impacts readiness.

“I have been deployed, and I have not necessarily had the right training or … the right equipment,” she said. “I have not necessarily had the right equipment, and we don’t want that to ever be the case.”