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Experts Praise Harm Reduction as Troops Turn to Vaping

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Smoking has a long-standing history with the United States Military, however vaping is taking over. Even though e-cigarettes are not an FDA approved approach to harm reduction, studies show that vaping is better than smoking, which is great news for harm reduction efforts and the troops.

Military Times reports some great numbers for vaping and the military versus civilian categories from the Defense Department Health-Related Behaviors Survey of Active-Duty Service Members.

  • 7.4% of service members smoked cigarettes daily in 2015; 12.9% of civilians smoked
  • Troops who report as “occasional smokers” (having smoked in the past month) has dropped from 24% to 13.9% since 2011
  • 11.1% of service members say they are daily vapers; 12.4% report vaping within the last month
  • The Marine Corps has the highest percentage of vapers, at 16.1%; the Navy follows with 14.5%; 11.2% for the Army; 10.5% for Air Force; 9.3% for Coast Guard
  • Traditional tobacco sales on military bases have fallen — Army and Air Force Exchange Service stores report 68 million units in 2011 to 37 million units in 2017. Marine Corp exchanges report sales of 5.5 million in 2011 to 2.5 million in 2017. Navy exchange stores reports sales of 15 million in 2011 to 10 million in 2017.
  • Marine Corps exchanges reported e-cigarette units decreasing through 2016, then jumping by 38% in 2017, to 30,163 units. In the first 11 months of the 2018 fiscal year, which ended Feb. 2, sales of e-cigs nearly doubled to 57,466 units.
  • E-cigarette sales began in AAFES stores in 2012, and grew to 272,705 units by 2016. E-cigarette sales decreased since then, down by 9 percent in 2017, and projected to be down another 23 percent for 2018.
  • E-cigarette sales started in 2013 at Navy Exchanges and hit their peak in 2015 at 45,458 units. Sales decreased by nearly half, to 24,541 units, in 2017. But sales of e-cigs were trending up in 2018 in the Navy stores — 25,256 units by November.

Both Heartland.org and The Hill recently came out with articles touting the positive effects of vaping as a harm reduction tool, especially within the military community. Heartland cited research from public health groups such as Public Health England (PHE), the Royal College of Physicians, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, and the American Cancer Society regarding the effects of vaping over smoking.

Additionally, smoking has cost the United States millions in health care dollars. Heartland.org cited an analysis that showed “if all current Medicaid recipients who use combustible tobacco were to switch to e-cigarettes, states could have saved $48 billion in Medicaid costs in 2012.” Another study showed “Medicaid savings ‘would be approximately $2.8 billion per 1 percent of [Medicaid] enrollees’ over the next 25 years.’” Naturally, the Defense Department’s costs could lower as well with the usage of e-cigarettes over smoking. Heartland.org’s final word says it all: “It should be very apparent to policymakers that e-cigarettes are an effective smoking cessation tool. E-cigarettes are safer than combustible cigarettes and provide economic gains by reducing health care costs associated with combustible cigarettes. Further, e-cigarette retailers improve local economies by providing new business opportunities and tax revenue. Therefore, policymakers should refrain from imposing onerous regulations and egregious taxes on e-cigarettes, which would only threaten the viability of these tobacco harm reduction products.”

The Hill’s article says that “anything that aids active duty service members and military veterans to quit smoking in order to live longer, happier lives, should be encouraged.” The article’s ire turns to the FDA, whose proposed rules could proportionately affect military members who are under 21. “Importantly, the impacts of smoking disproportionately impact service members and veterans, so limiting successful means to minimizing tobacco usage and assisting people in quitting smoking disproportionately affects service members and veterans as well,” the writer notes.

The stresses of active duty life have led to smoking over time within military members, and access to smoking cessation tools is imperative, in fact, The Hill says it’s a national security concern due to keeping our soldiers’ health top priority. A study conducted by the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, says that “U.S. troops who were deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan have been reported to smoke at twice the rate of civilians, and veterans of the U.S. military are more likely to be lifelong smokers than their civilian counterparts.”

Even after active duty ends, service members who have become veterans still smoke in large numbers, and Sherman Gillums, chief advocacy officer at AMVETS, told The Hill: “now that e-cigarettes, an arguably less potent alternatives are widely available, I expect to see better health outcomes over time. In large part smokers, many of whom are service members or veterans, buy cigarettes where it is most convenient. If we want to encourage them to quit, the same products that will enable them to do so must also be conveniently available in the same locations. We would all benefit from continuing the conversation about viable alternatives to smoking, particularly those such as e-cigarettes that have already proven an effective step towards quitting, rather than jumping to unsubstantiated conclusions that result in banning products altogether.”

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