Military Service Members Report High Usage of Tobacco Products
According to new data published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately three in ten U.S. military veterans used some form of tobacco in the five-year span between 2010 and 2015. Tobacco product usage was higher among veterans than among non-veterans for males and females across all age groups, except males ages 50 years and older. Data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) was used to assess the different tobacco products currently used (in the past 30 days) by U.S. veterans and non-veterans. Use for veterans was highest for cigarettes (21.6 percent), followed by cigars (6.2 percent), smokeless tobacco (5.2 percent), roll-your-own tobacco (3.0 percent), and pipes (1.5 percent).
Many Veterans reported their addiction to tobacco either began in the military or was reinforced during service, and data has shown that, overall, most veterans in VA who smoke are Caucasian, non-Hispanic men, between the ages of 45 and 64. The CDC’s study also found that current usage of tobacco was higher among those in the younger generation between 18 and 25 years of age, as well as those without health insurance, living in poverty, reporting serious psychological distress, and living with limited education and income.
“These findings highlight the importance of further protecting the health of our military veterans,” said Corinne Graffunder, Dr.P.H., director of CDC’s Office on Smoking and Health.
“We must redouble our efforts to help veterans quit and reduce the preventable suffering and premature death caused by tobacco use.”
During 2010 alone, Veterans Health Administration (VHA) spent an estimated $2.7 billion on smoking-related ambulatory care, prescription drugs, hospitalization, and home health care. Thus, the financial impact of utilizing tobacco products is significant, and it truly pays to quit.
“VA has more tobacco use treatment options available than ever and we are committed to continuing to lower the rate of smoking among Veterans enrolled in VA and to providing individualized support to help Veterans become tobacco-free,” said Kim Hamlett-Berry, Ph.D., Program Director of VA Tobacco & Health Policy. “Historically, rates of smoking among all Veterans—including those enrolled in VA—have been high. However, we have seen progress with declines in cigarette use among enrolled Veterans. The 2015 VA Survey of Enrollees reported that 16.8 percent of Veterans enrolled for health care in VA identified as a current smoker.”
Experts have said evidence-based tobacco control interventions that are effective for both current and former military members are important to reduce tobacco usage. Some potential avenues for educating service men and woman including promoting cessation, implementing tobacco-free policies at military facilities and Veterans Affairs (VA) medical centers and clinics, increasing the age requirement to buy tobacco to 21 years, and eliminating tobacco product discounts.
Several resources are already currently available to veterans hoping to kick their habit. VA health care plans allow for extensive access to treatment options, including medications and counseling. There is also a free quit helpline, 1-855-QUIT-VET (1-855-784-8838), as well as a text messaging service to support quitters called SmokefreeVET. Government-supported initiatives for veterans also include online tobacco cessation resources for service members. These initiatives are available at sites, including https://www.publichealth.va.gov/smoking/ and https://smokefree.gov/veterans.