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‘Great American Smokeout’ Draws Attention to Health Risks of Smoking

By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Nov. 15, 2006 – Tomorrow’s 29th annual American Cancer Society “Great American Smokeout” gives military members and Defense Department civilians a chance to pause before lighting up and reflect that smoking poses significant risks to their health.

Smoking is the leading cause of preventable death, Dr. David N. Tornberg, deputy assistant secretary of defense for clinical and program policy, said during an interview with the Pentagon Channel.

Held on the third Thursday each year, the Smokeout encourages people to quit smoking for their health and well-being.

Indeed, about 30 percent of cancer deaths are attributable to smoking, Tornberg pointed out, noting that the habit also is known to cause asthma, emphysema, hardening of the arteries and other serious health problems.

Smokers also are ill more often than nonsmokers, Tornberg said, and have higher hospitalization rates.

Yet, despite the well-publicized health risks connected to smoking, the military has witnessed rising smoking rates among younger servicemembers in recent years, Tornberg said.

“Unfortunately, our smoking rate is higher than the civilian norm,” Tornberg acknowledged. “We have about a 32 percent smoking rate within the services.” Surveys show most military smokers are young people holding the ranks of private through staff sergeant, he said.

Servicemembers cite stress or boredom as reasons for taking up smoking, Tornberg said, noting that most military smokers pick up the habit after completing initial military training. Other servicemembers start smoking, he added, after they’ve been deployed overseas.

The military offers smoking cessation assistance through its health care facilities, Tornberg said, as well as a hotline to help smokers quit. The DoD-sponsored toll-free smoking cessation Quitline is available at 888-742-0742.

The military has been tracking servicemembers’ smoking habits for the past 40 years or so, Tornberg noted. The good news, he reported, is that overall smoking within the military has dramatically decreased over that time period.

“We are winning the fight, albeit slowly” against smoking in the military, Tornberg asserted, while acknowledging the recent upward incidence of smoking among younger servicemembers.

Having quit smoking cigarettes, some servicemembers have switched to smokeless tobacco products, Tornberg observed. However, such products -- like cigarettes -- contain the drug nicotine, he pointed out.

“Nicotine is additive, and nicotine is the cause of many, many of the medical conditions associated with smoking,” Tornberg said. Nicotine, he explained, alters blood flow and makes servicemembers who ingest the drug more susceptible to heat stress. And nicotine degrades a person’s night vision by as much as 20 to 50 percent, Tornberg noted, depending on altitude.

Smoking also reduces endurance and causes the body to take longer to heal, Tornberg pointed out.

“So, there are a lot of immediate negative health effects from smoking,” Tornberg said. “And, in a way, if we think about it, smokers have made, perhaps, a conscious decision not to take care of themselves in some respect.”

Tornberg urged servicemembers who don’t smoke not to start. Quitting smoking, he acknowledged, isn’t easy.

“The average smoker attempts to quit three to four times over his lifespan before he successfully quits,” Tornberg explained, pointing to nicotine’s additive quality.

Therefore, most smokers –- including military -- require counseling and medications, he noted, to successfully kick the habit.

“And, their primary care physician can certainly assist them in their journey to quit smoking,” Tornberg concluded.

Contact Author

Dr. David N. Tornberg

Related Sites:
Great American Smokeout
Tobacco-Free in the DoD
Tricare’s Healthy Choices for Life
Military Health System

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