Military Cigarette Benefits Under Fire

Cigarettes and the U.S. military have a long history, but a possible change in benefits has the habit under fire, with the relationship between big tobacco and our fighting forces possibly coming to an end.

The Senate Appropriations Defense Subcommittee has approved a $549 billion defense spending bill that would eliminate the 25 percent discount on cigarettes for the armed services.

The bill is creating a heated debate.

Local representative Duncan Hunter, who served in the U.S. Marine Corps before joining U.S. Congress disagrees with the move, telling NBC 7, in part:

"Service men and women do a lot in defense of this country and they ask little in return. If they want to buy cigarettes or chewing tobacco, both legal products, that's a decision they make individually."

Debra Klohe, a mother-in-law of a Marine feels the same.

“They put their life at risk and they should have any kind of discount that they have, they shouldn't have their rights and their discounts taken away from them,” said Klohe.

One U.S. senator estimates the illnesses and health care costs from smoking at about $1.6 billion a year.

Greg Gamble, a retired member of the Navy who lost family members to lung disease, agrees with the subcommittee’s call.

“I don't smoke personally never have never will and I disregard anything in regards to smoking,” said Gamble. “But in the Navy they definitely have to have their two things: cigarettes and coffee.

The U.S. military’s ties to tobacco date back to World War I, according to Debra Kelley with the American Lung Association,

“Every solider got a free pack of cigarettes with their K-rations. The use of tobacco has really been embedded in the military,” said Kelley.

Due to mounting health concerns, Kelley said the American Lung Association has been urging the military to eliminate the cigarette discount for years.

“When you look at the ultimate effect of selling low-cost tobacco products to our troops it's basically death and a discount,” she added.

The defense bill still has to pass through a number of hurdles. It’s also worth noting that the tobacco lobby gives significant funding to lawmakers.

If the bill does pass, it would go into effect Oct. 1.

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