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Navy mulls banning tobacco sales on all bases, ships

Unclear whether other services would follow

Mar. 24, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
The Navy is on the verge of eliminating tobacco sales on all its bases and ships, according to sources.
The Navy is on the verge of eliminating tobacco sales on all its bases and ships, according to sources. (Army)
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The Navy is on the verge of eliminating tobacco sales on all its bases and ships, according to sources inside and outside the Defense Department.

Officials are reportedly considering removing tobacco from all sales venues, to include any exchange-operated retail outlets, as well as MWR-operated retail outlets where cigarettes may be sold. Commissaries on Navy bases currently do not sell tobacco products.

The decision would be made at the service’s highest levels. Navy officials have been gathering information on the impacts of such a decision, one source said, to include the inevitable drop in profits for the Navy Exchange Service Command — which would reduce the flow of dividends that help fund morale, welfare and recreation programs on installations.

Navy spokeswoman Lt. Cmdr. Sarah Flaherty confirmed Monday that there have been discussions about tobacco sales, but said that no decision has been made.

Cmdr. Tamara Lawrence, a spokeswoman for Navy Secretary Ray Mabus, said in a written statement that “maximizing the readiness” of sailors and Marines has been a priority for Mabus since he took office.

Mabus “has implemented a number of initiatives to improve the culture of fitness in the Navy and Marine Corps, and curbing tobacco use is part of that improvement,” Lawrence said.

A source familiar with the military resale industry said that if the Navy pushes ahead on banning tobacco sales on its ships and bases, the idea likely would spread to the other services.

Tobacco products are legal, although by law they cannot be sold to minors. But smoking is a leading cause of premature death and disease in the U.S.; according to the American Cancer Society, more than 43 million people in America still smoke and tobacco will cause an estimated 480,000 deaths in 2014.

“We know that policies that restrict access to tobacco products, reduce exposure to tobacco advertising, and limit places that people smoke have a direct effect on reduced smoking rates, especially among youth,” wrote John R. Seffrin, CEO of the American Cancer Society, in a statement issued in February after CVS Caremark announced that its nationwide chain of more than 7,800 pharmacies would stop selling cigarettes and other tobacco products by Oct. 1.

CVS officials said their decision to stop selling tobacco products was consistent with the positions of the American Medical Association, American Heart Association, American Cancer Society, American Lung Association and American Pharmacists Association, all of whom have opposed tobacco sales in retail outlets in pharmacies.

The Navy has taken other steps to promote smoking cessation and discourage tobacco sales, starting with eliminating sales in its commissaries, then eliminating discounts on tobacco prices in Navy and Marine Corps exchanges in 2012.

“Tobacco use is the most avoidable public health hazard in the Navy and Marine Corps,” Mabus wrote in a March, 2, 2012, memo announcing that tobacco products offered in Navy and Marine Corps exchanges would no longer be sold at a discount. At that time, about one-third of sailors and Marines personnel used some form of tobacco, Mabus said.

In the same memo, he said that nicotine replacement therapy products approved by the Food and Drug Administration would be supplied for free to service members aboard all ships, base clinics and pharmacies and battalion aid stations.

In her statement Monday, Lawrence said Mabus “has asked his staff to look at additional ways to improve the health and readiness of our force. We are in the early stages of that process.”

Although her statement made reference to Marines and the Marine Corps, which is part of the Department of the Navy, Military Times could not immediately confirm Monday evening whether the Navy’s discussions about a possible total tobacco ban also would affect Marine Corps bases.

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