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Decision on tobacco sales awaits DoD review

Jun. 10, 2014 - 03:27PM   |  
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The Navy’s efforts to eliminate tobacco sales on Navy and Marine Corps bases are on hold as a comprehensive Defense Department-wide review of tobacco policies gets underway.

Previously, sources said the Navy was on track to eliminate tobacco sales on its bases by mid-April. But to date, no changes or decisions have been made, said Navy spokeswoman Lt. Richlyn Ivey on June 4, adding that Navy Secretary Ray Mabus is reviewing the policies.

On March 27, DoD spokeswoman Army Lt. Col. Cathy Wilkinson said officials were reviewing tobacco policies across the department. That review extends beyond tobacco sales to include the possibility of moving to tobacco-free installations.

That review is still in its early stages, DoD spokeswoman Joy Crabaugh said June 4, with officials aiming to present recommendations to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel this fall.

The review is being conducted by an “interdisciplinary team,” Crabaugh said, with representatives from the services and DoD. She could not provide specific details about exactly which agencies within DoD are participating in the review — for example, health experts or officials who oversee commissaries and exchanges.

In an interview with Military Times on March 27, Mabus said he and his senior staff are taking a “deliberate approach” in considering a “whole range” of initiatives regarding tobacco.

A DoD memo dated March 14 seemed to encourage the services to eliminate tobacco sales — and even tobacco use — on military bases, while stopping short of ordering specific actions.

“Structural reforms in how and where we allow tobacco purchases to be made; as well as the need to consider tobacco-free installations, are all matters that require our near-term attention,” stated the memo, signed by Jessica Wright, acting under secretary of defense for personnel and readiness, and Dr. Jonathan Woodson, assistant secretary of defense for health affairs.

Aside from the DoD review, other factors are coming into play. In their version of the 2015 defense authorization bill, House lawmakers inserted a provision that would restrict DoD and the services from taking any action to limit or ban the sale of a legal consumer product category sold as of Jan. 1, 2014, in commissaries or exchanges on any military installation or ship at sea.

The Senate version of the bill contains no similar provision. Differences between the House and Senate bills will be ironed out later this year.

According to the DoD memo, tobacco use costs DoD an estimated $1.6 billion a year in medical expenses and lost work time. Based on statistics that half of smokers will die from a related complication, that equates to about 175,000 current active-duty smokers, officials wrote.

Tobacco is sold in commissaries on all Army and Air Force installations, six Navy bases and four Marine bases. However, tobacco sales on military bases have steadily declined since defense officials began taking steps to reduce smoking in the ranks about 20 years ago.

For example, in the past year alone, tobacco sales in Navy exchanges dropped by 12 percent. Tobacco sales accounted for 4.5 percent of Navy exchange sales in 2013. And over the past five years, tobacco sales in Army and Air Force Exchange Service stores decreased by 24 percent; in 2013, those sales accounted for 6 percent of total AAFES sales.

Because some of the profits from exchange sales are returned to the services’ morale, welfare and recreation programs, any move to halt tobacco sales would affect funding for MWR activities

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