Air Force Considers Smoking Ban
Air Force officials said Thursday that a widespread ban on tobacco products is possible, but not imminent.
Specialists are working on such policies and they appear to be a likely option in the not-so-distant future, according to Lt. Col. Steven Pflanz, chairman of the Air Force’s Integrated Delivery System, an arm of the service’s Community Action Information Board. The board, which meets quarterly, is designed to identify and resolve concerns from a variety of sources throughout the Air Force.
“There was general support for moving forward with a restrictive policy and evaluating carefully what that policy should be,” Pflanz said of the CAIB meeting held two weeks ago. “There is recognition that to get anywhere near our goal, we have to try something new.”
Officials say some information provided to Stars and Stripes for an April 29 article was incorrect. The Air Force Materiel Command did receive an endorsement from the CAIB for its proposals on banning tobacco products, Pflanz said. But while there was some thought expressed about making the command a test case, AFMC believes it is not ready, according to Robert Ely, an AFMC public affairs officer. Ely said much of that is due to the command’s large civilian work force. Civilians make up about 70 percent of the command, and directives that work with servicemembers don’t always apply to civilians.
Ely said the AFMC is still working on its plans and declined to discuss anything specific. “Nobody’s ready to talk about it,” he said. “It’s way too premature.”
Pflanz said plans for a widespread tobacco ban need more work and the approval of Gen. Michael Moseley, Air Force chief of staff, and Air Force Secretary Michael Wynne. But he said Lt. Gen. Arthur Lichte, who heads the CAIB, will expect to see progress on the issue at future CAIB meetings. “He’s not going to be satisfied if six months go by and not a lot has happened,” Pflanz said.
He also couldn’t rule out the possibility of some bans going into effect before the Air Force adopts a policy. “In the absence of Air Force policy, there is nothing to prevent an individual base or command from going forth,” Pflanz said. At least one commander, Col. Michael Schaffrinna of the 31st Medical Group at Aviano Air Base in Italy, already has prohibited tobacco use by airmen while in uniform.
Pflanz said the CAIB endorsed the concept because the service’s messages — and its tobacco cessation programs — aren’t convincing enough people to stop. He said that after a large decline in the 1980s and early 1990s, the percentage of tobacco users has remained at about 25 percent for the last decade.
The Air Force’s goal is to reduce that percentage to 12 percent by 2010. Pflanz said that’s a goal, not a mandate, but the service would like to see all of its airmen tobacco-free. “If you’re an airman who smokes,” he said, “the Air Force would like you to make efforts to quit smoking or quit using tobacco.”
Like Jempty, I’m generally leery of government efforts to ban dangerous behavior that adults find pleasurable. The military is, however, a different animal. It’s also a sign of what can happen when a government bureaucracy is put in charge of people’s lives.
The Air Force could reasonably argue that its airmen would perform better if they weren’t smokers. While physical fitness is never something that particular Service has been known for, outside a handful of occupational specialties, smoking tends to decrease athletic performance. In an office environment, smokers waste a lot of time taking breaks to indulge their habit or, if prohibited from doing that, suffer withdrawal symptoms. (There are, however, counter arguments to be made that nicotine provides a pick-me-up. Certainly, smokeless tobacco use is prolific among infantry soldiers because it helps them stay alert during night patrols.)
More significantly, military personnel are eligible for a pension and medical benefits after twenty years of service. Given that long-term smokers tend to have more health problems, the government can argue that disallowing smoking is financially prudent.
The Army is unlikely to implement such a policy, given that we’re at war and the Army is having a difficult time attracting enough recruits into key specialties. The Air Force, however, is not faced with such concerns.
The military is a closed society and can get away with things that most employers can not. As the government becomes more responsible for providing health care services and disability benefits, though, I expect we’ll see more moves in this direction in society at large. We’ve already seen this used, for example, to justify mandatory helmet and seatbelt laws. A ban on smoking may not be that far down the road. Then, on to bacon.