NORTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. (AP) — Tobacco sales on Navy ships and in stores on Navy and Marine Corps bases would be a thing of the past under a plan being considered by Navy Secretary Ray Mabus, but some congressional members are pushing back.
The Navy Department, which includes the Marine Corps, would be the first military department to prohibit tobacco sales.
“We know tobacco hurts you. We know tobacco kills you. We know it makes you less fit, and one of our big initiatives is to have sailors that are fit and resilient,” Mabus said in an interview during a visit to Rhode Island this week. “And so the whole idea is that we want to encourage sailors who smoke to quit.”
Congress is considering a measure that would prevent Mabus from instituting a sales ban, with the prohibition’s opponents arguing it overreaches on a habit that is unhealthy but still legal.
Tobacco use costs the Defense Department an estimated $1.6 billion annually in medical costs and lost work time, said spokeswoman Joy Crabaugh.
A 2011 Defense Department survey found that 24 percent of troops smoke, compared with about 20 percent of civilians. More than 80 percent of heavy smokers in the military said they used cigarettes to relax and to relieve stress.
Smoking is allowed in designated areas on Navy ships and at Navy and Marine Corps installations, and Mabus’ proposal would not change that. Smoking has been prohibited on submarines since December 2010. Cigarettes in military rations were discontinued in the 1970s.
Mabus has already ended tobacco discounts at Navy and Marine Corps exchanges, or retail stores. (When it comes to alcohol, sailors can buy it on bases but not on ships.)
He noted that CVS Caremark announced this year it would stop selling tobacco at its drugstores and said the military is an extension of the movement.