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Smoking Costs DoD Plenty

By Sgt. 1st Class Kathleen T. Rhem, USA
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Nov. 14, 2001 – DoD officials can't be sure exactly how much smoking costs the department each year, but they know it's a bundle.

A 1998 DoD study estimated smoking costs the department $584 million per year in medical care and $346 million in lost productivity, Air Force Lt. Col. Wayne Talcott said.

Talcott is a psychologist assigned to the Air Force Medical Operations Agency in San Antonio, Texas. He is also a former head of DoD's Tobacco Use Reduction Committee.

His numbers are only estimates, he said, because it's impossible to quantify what illnesses are caused by smoking and which are naturally occurring.

Lynn Pahland, director of Health Promotion and Preventive Services Policy with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs, believes the estimates are conservative.

She said there needs to be a cultural shift against smoking throughout DoD. Officials shouldn't rely on the medical community to wipe out smoking single-handedly, she said.

"We are trying to instill a culture change where we point out and endorse that we want a healthy culture," she said. "We want to put a system in place throughout the Department of Defense -- not just in the healthcare system -- that healthy lifestyle choices are what we want from everyone."

"Smoking is the single most preventable cause of death in the United States," Talcott said.

Part of this departmentwide push is making tobacco products less accessible at commissaries and exchanges. Talcott said cigarettes used to be much less expensive at these stores than off base. DoD has since succeeded in having the prices of tobacco products raised at commissaries and exchanges to make smoking less attractive.

But Congress has said tobacco is a legal product, so the commissaries and exchanges won't stop selling these items any time soon, Pahland added. At the same time, though, store managers are dedicating less shelf space to tobacco and giving more prominent display to smoking cessation aids, such as nicotine patches and gum, she said.

Smoking cessation aids are also available through many military heath clinics and hospitals, but not all. Pahland said smoking cessation aid isn't a TRICARE benefit per se, but many hospitals and clinics offer cessation classes and products to improve beneficiaries' health and cut down on healthcare costs.

Doctors in military medical treatment facilities can also prescribe medications to help patients quit, Talcott noted. A combination of medication and behavior modification therapy is the best approach to kicking the habit, he said.

"The bottom line is we want our armed forces to be as healthy as possible," Pahland said. "It is a scientific fact that tobacco use interferes with health and readiness from both a short-term and long-term perspective. We want to give people the tools to help them make healthy choices."

She noted DoD is concerned about the health of the entire military family, not just service members. "If family members are healthier, that's going to give peace of mind to our armed forces," she said.

The Great American Smokeout Day is Nov. 15. For more information on quitting tobacco for good, visit the Smokeout Web site supported by TRICARE at http://www.tricare.osd.mil/media/the_doctor15.cfm.

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