U.S. Navy Bans Smoking On Submarines

You won’t be able to light up below the surface any more:

WASHINGTON — The smoking lamp is going out all across the Navy’s submarine fleet, where the mission to “run silent, run deep” now will be carried out by sailors ordered to run undersea operations without cigarettes, cigars or pipes.

This is the latest front in the long war against tobacco declared by the Pentagon and the Department of Veterans Affairs. Their programs to help military personnel kick the smoking habit are intended to protect the health of the current force — and to save the government hundreds of millions of dollars a year in health care costs for those who have served, and smoked, in uniform.

The Navy is cognizant that military service is stressful, especially in long and lonely deployments under the sea. Everybody is aware that smoking is a legal, if harmful, stress reliever.

So the Navy banned smoking aboard submarines not with the stated purpose of curing the smokers, but of protecting nonsmoking submarine crew members from the threat of heart and lung disease from secondhand smoke.

“Recent testing has proven that, despite our atmosphere purification technology, there are unacceptable levels of secondhand smoke in the atmosphere of a submerged submarine,” said Vice Adm. John J. Donnelly, commander of submarine forces. “The only way to eliminate risk to our nonsmoking sailors is to stop smoking aboard our submarines.”

The Navy did not order its submariners to quit cold turkey. For the 5,000 sailors who admitted to being smokers among the submarine fleet’s 13,000 crew members — that is just shy of 40 percent — the ban goes into effect at the end of the year.

In the meantime, a senior petty officer aboard each hunter-killer submarine and each nuclear ballistic missile boat will serve as a “smoking cessation coordinator,” helping sailors wean themselves off the habit through discipline — and a ready supply of nicotine gum, nicotine patches and other replacement therapies.

There are no plans to impose a “smokeless Navy.” Aboard surface warships, smoking is allowed in specially designated — and open — areas. Across the Navy, those who wish to quit smoking can attend classroom programs. And in many Navy and Marine Corps locations, those wishing to quit can receive help from physicians, dentists and pharmacists during a health care visit.

This story caught my attention largely because I would have assumed that smoking would have already been banned on submarines to begin with, not so much because of the health issues but because of the safety risks posed by fires in enclosed tubes under the sea.

Any submariners out there have a comment ?

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Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Bubblehead says:

    When I was on subs the smoker ratio was closer to 80%. Face it you can’t go outside to smoke like on a skimmer.

    Submarines are a much more intense atmosphere than many other areas of the Navy.

    The only levers to keep moral up are the chow , movies and yes smoking.

    The every running pc march has claimed another scalp.

    We need to get rid of all the pc loving brass hats and get back to being a true fighting force.

  2. Bubblehead says:

    Unless that is a new one since I got out couldn’t you have at least used a picture of one of our submarines?

  3. jfoobar says:

    Add me to the “wait, it wasn’t banned already???” camp.

  4. Boyd says:

    The Navy is only now planning to put women aboard submarines, so the slow pace of “progress” isn’t surprising. Hey, maybe there’s a connection to women coming aboard and smoking going overboard! Heh.

    As to your question, Doug, smoking was never anything close to being a safety hazard aboard submarines. If we were at periscope depth in bad weather, which usually causes the boat to roll horribly, the smoking lamp was always extinguished in my experience. But most of the time, hanging out in one of the few smoking areas (the Auxiliary Machine Room was one of the more common smoking areas, as was the Chief’s Mess) never introduced any discernable fire hazard that I could see.

    As a former smoker of 41 years, including aboard aircraft, submarines and surface vessels (technically known as “targets” in the world of subs), I don’t buy the “studies have shown second-hand smoke is a hazard to non-smokers” line, but I have no doubt that’s what the Navy’s studies “prove.” The outcome of said studies was pre-ordained, and that was a common circumstance during my Navy career. And I guaran-damn-tee you that the “we have no plans for a smokeless Navy” line is an outright lie (that’s cleaned-up Navy Chief-speak for “I believe they’re mistaken on that point.”).

    All in all, I don’t think eliminating smokers from the Navy is a bad idea in the long run, but to state that that’s not the goal is just not true.