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Don’t Be the Weakest Link: It’s Time to Quit Using Tobacco

Hospital Corpsman 2nd Class Monique Lopez and Hospital Corpsman 3rd Class Daniel Brown, both assigned to the Naval Hospital Bremerton, participate in the Great American Smokeout and display a model cigarette that features chemicals and additives to the cigarette. (U.S. Navy photo by Doug Stutz/Released)

By HMCM(SW/FMF) Patrick Modglin, United States Fleet Forces Command, Fleet Medical Master Chief

As a former user of chewing tobacco, I understand both the perceived appeal of using tobacco products as well as the challenges associated with quitting. However, the bottom line is that using tobacco negatively impacts fleet force readiness, and it is your duty as a Sailor or Marine to be at your physical and mental best in order to carry out the mission at any given notice. This November, I urge you to make the commitment to quit using tobacco products for good.

In the 2011 Health Related Behaviors Survey of Active Duty Military Personnel, 24.4 percent of active duty Sailors and 30.8 percent of Marines indicated they were current smokers, while 9.3 percent of Sailors and 19.0 percent percent of Marines indicated they use smokeless tobacco at least one day/week.1 The data also indicates that many of these smokers are also using smokeless tobacco products.2 Tobacco kills 4 million persons each year and in the U. S. 438,000 annual deaths are attributable to tobacco use.3

To underscore the importance of a tobacco-free lifestyle and to support the Navy and Marine Corps’ anti-tobacco efforts within the fleet, programs such as the Navy and Marine Corps Public Health Center’s (NMCPHC) Health Promotion and Wellness Campaign are committed to providing Sailors and Marines with the tools they need to stop using tobacco. NMCPHC has an extensive list of online resources, including mobile apps, websites, Quit lines and texting services that are tailored towards quitting smoking, chewing, dipping and spitting.

All ships and submarines, as well as hospitals, base clinics, pharmacies and Battalion Aid Stations are required to carry tobacco cessation products, so items such as nicotine patches and nicotine gum are readily available, along with counseling, at no cost.

Myths and Facts

Nobody wants to be the weakest link during sustained operations. Read the myths and facts below to learn more about how using tobacco can negatively impact your contribution to your unit and your family.

  • Nicotine is a stress reliever. False. Using nicotine releases a chemical called dopamine in the brain which results in an initial sense of calm. However, this is a temporary and addictive solution and actually causes the body increased physical stress. Blood pressure and heart rate increase, muscles become tense, blood vessels constrict, and less oxygen is available to the brain and body to facilitate healthy coping during stressful situations.4

  • Tobacco use is the best predictor of military training failure. True. Smokers and users of tobacco are more likely to perform poorly on military fitness evaluations, sustain musculoskeletal injuries and have impaired respiratory function.5

  • Nicotine is a performance enhancer. False. The dopamine reaction that nicotine produces may make you feel more focused, but it actually decreases the amount of oxygen to your brain and body, which decreases physical performance.4

  • Tobacco use has an impact on military families. True. In addition to the harmful effects of second-hand smoke, tobacco can cost as much as 10 percent of an enlisted member’s salary.5

  • Being tobacco-free is good for your Shipmates. True. Tobacco has many short and long-term negative effects on the body that decrease physical and mental performance. Being as healthy as possible is not only good for you, but it directly impacts your contribution to your Shipmates, your team and the fleet.

Remember that despite common misconceptions, tobacco use is not good for you, your shipmates, your friends or your family. Although it can be challenging to quit, you can do it. Don’t hesitate to reach out for medical and peer support.

Additional Resources

In addition to the tobacco cessation resources listed below, you can also visit your medical provider, dentist, or health promotion coordinator for face-to-face treatment and support.

Master Chief Modglin has been in the Navy for nearly 27 years, and has dedicated his career to the health of the fleet. He has been instrumental in crafting Navy policy around tobacco cessation and currently serves as the Fleet Medical Master Chief, United States Fleet Forces Command.

References

1,2 Barlas FM, Higgins WB, Pflieger JC, et al. 2011 Health Related Behaviors Survey of Active Duty Military Personnel. February 2013. Report prepared for the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Health Affairs) and U.S. Coast Guard under Contract No. GS-23F-8182H.

3 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Smoking and Tobacco Use Fact Sheet: http://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/data_statistics/fact_sheets/health_effects/tobacco_related_mortality/. Last accessed 9 October 2013.

4 U Can Quit 2 Website: http://www.ucanquit2.org/facts/nicotine.aspx. Last accessed 10 October 2013.

5 Klesges RC, Haddock CK, Chang CF, et al. The Association of Smoking and the Cost of Military Training. Tobacco Control. 2001;10: 43-47.