CDC Report Finds 3 in 10 Veterans Use Tobacco, Showing Need to Do More to Help Them Quit

Statement of Matthew L. Myers, President, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids
January 11, 2018

WASHINGTON, D.C. – A new CDC report issued today shows that U.S. military veterans use tobacco at much higher rates than non-veterans. This report underscores the need to do more to help both veterans and active duty military personnel quit smoking and other tobacco use in order to protect their health, improve military readiness and reduce related health care expenses, which cost the Veterans Health Administration alone an estimated $2.7 billion a year.

Utilizing data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, the CDC reported that about 3 in 10 military veterans (29.2 percent) were current users of tobacco products during 2010-15. Current use (in the past 30 days) among veterans was highest for cigarettes (21.6 percent), followed by cigars (6.2 percent), smokeless tobacco (5.2 percent), roll-your-own tobacco (3.0 percent), and pipes (1.5 percent). Electronic cigarettes were not included in the survey.

Historically, tobacco use has been higher among military veterans than non-veterans, and the report confirms this is still the case for both males and females in all age groups except males 50 and older. The report also points out that more than a third of active duty military who smoke started after enlisting.

This report demonstrates the need to redouble efforts to prevent and reduce tobacco use among both active duty military personnel and veterans. The Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs should actively promote the availability of smoking cessation treatments, including both counseling and FDA-approved medications.

Other strategies recommended in today’s CDC report include implementing smoke-free policies at military installations and VA medical facilities, increasing the sale age for tobacco products to 21 on military bases (tobacco 21 laws have been enacted by 5 states and more than 285 localities nationwide), and eliminating tobacco product discounts through military retailers.

Tobacco use, which kills more than 480,000 Americans annually, takes an enormous toll on the health and physical fitness of our military personnel. Service members who use tobacco are more likely to drop out of basic training, sustain injuries and have poor vision, all of which compromise readiness. The high rate of tobacco use among military members is a financial burden on both DOD and VA healthcare systems because of the high costs of treating patients with diseases caused by smoking. During 2010, the Veterans Health Administration spent an estimated $2.7 billion on smoking-related outpatient health care, prescription drugs, hospitalization, and home health care.