Forcing the Navy to Sell Cigarettes on Ships: How the Tobacco Industry and Politicians Torpedoed Navy Tobacco Control

New research by Center affiliates Naphtali Offen, BS, Elizabeth A. Smith, PhD, Ruth E. Malone, RN, PhD, FAAN and their colleague shows that the tobacco industry thwarted Navy efforts to permit ships to go smoke-free. When, in 1993, the Captain of the US Navy aircraft carrier, the USS Roosevelt, exercised his authority to eliminate smoking and the sale of cigarettes aboard his ship, the tobacco industry mobilized to thwart his efforts.  It lobbied a Congressional committee with military oversight, many of whose members represented tobacco-growing states and had accepted larger campaign contributions from the tobacco industry than their colleagues.  They portrayed smoking as a personal freedom and a “right” promised to sailors upon enlistment, ignoring concerns about health hazards.  Congress passed a law in 1994 mandating that every ship sell cigarettes and successfully pressured Navy leadership to promise smokers a place to smoke on all ships. However, at the time it was misleadingly characterized in the media as strengthening tobacco control.  In its 2009 report, the Institute of Medicine called for an entirely smokefree military in 20 years, noting that Congressional action would be necessary to repeal the law mandating smoking on all ships.  Pressure from civilian public health advocates and veterans groups may be necessary to repeal the law.

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