Though cigarette use among armed service members has declined since WWII, smoking continues to be the leading preventable cause of premature disease and death in the United States. The good news is that 70% of Veterans Affairs (VA) enrollees that have ever smoked have successfully quit smoking. This Veteran’s Day, help the veteran in your life join the ranks of smokefree veterans.
A History of Tobacco Use in the Armed Forces
The military has a long history of tobacco use and a culture of smoking. In fact, 30% of current smokers in the military say they started smoking after enlisting, and many veterans report their addiction to tobacco either began in the military or was reinforced during their service.
Still, tobacco use varies greatly among different branches of the armed services. For instance, Air Force personnel smoke less than the general population while Marine Corps members smoke more. In 2008, 30.5% of all active-duty military personnel reported currently smoking cigarettes, similar to 29.1% among civilians. Cigarette smoking prevalence is higher among military personnel with high combat exposure compared to those with no combat deployments.
As you sit down with the veteran in your life, ask them when they started smoking, and why. Starting at the beginning can help them create their Quit Plan.
Why Do Service People Start Smoking?
A 2011 report by the Department of Defense states some of the most common reasons that service members reported smoking were:
- To help relieve stress, relax or calm down
- To help keep awake or alert
- Because they felt they couldn’t quit
Low-priced cigarettes and social pressure from fellow service members were also common reasons for smoking.
Ask the veteran in your life about their smoking routines. Ask them to mention the emotions they feel when they want to smoke, common places where they light up, and if there’s anyone they smoke with frequently. Help them think of alternatives to these routines.
Helping Veterans to Quit Smoking
Raising the prices of cigarettes, reducing the locations where active service people are permitted to smoke, and eliminating tobacco use during primary training are among the policies being utilized across military branches to help discourage smoking among current service members.
Talk to the veteran in your life about the many resources available to help them quit smoking. Your support, along with the resources below, may help them to quit smoking.
- Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Health Care System:
- Each year, the VA provides health care services to 8.76 million of 23 million U.S. Veterans. In order to receive these services, a veteran must qualify for VA health benefits. If the veteran in your life is not enrolled in VA health care, find out if they qualify. Hospitals and medical centers, community-based outpatient clinics (CBOCs), and telehealth technology are all options for health care through the VA.
- The VA health services also include coverage for FDA-approved smoking cessation medications, counseling interventions, and phone and text-based helplines. Support from a healthcare provider that includes counseling and medication can double one’s chances of quitting smoking.
- SmokefreeVET Text Messaging System
- Messaging smoking cessation interventions, such as the one by smokefree.gov and the VA can be helpful during a quit. Getting daily tips, reminders, and check-ins during the quit journey may help quitters stay true to their quit plan. Whether emails, text messages, or the Quitter’s Circle app, the veteran in your life can stay on track with their quit daily.
Consulting with a doctor, an insurance provider, and checking out a Veterans Community support group are also ways for veterans to find support while on the quitting journey.
In Honor of Veteran’s Day, Start Making a Quit Plan
If you have a loved one who smokes and is a current or former member of the armed forces, use this day to let them know that you’re there to support them when they are ready to quit. Use our guided questions to help start the conversation. If you are a veteran of the armed services yourself, know that support is available as you begin your quit journey.