By Miriam Raftery
September 10, 2016 (San Diego’s East County) — Tobacco poses serious health risks U.S. troops and veterans, costing our military $1.6 billion a year for medical treatment of smoking-related illnesses. The military in recent steps has taken steps to discourage tobacco use and encourage soldiers to kick the habit and save lives.
But now Congressman Duncan Hunter (R-Alpine) is fighting to allow tobacco companies to give free cigars to U.S. military personnel. Hunter has taken $42,011 from the tobacco industry since 2010, including over $13,511 for his 2016 campaign, according to Open Secrets.
Asked about threats posed by tobacco to soldiers’ lives and health, as well as the high costs of caring for veterans suffering from tobacco-related illnesses, Hunter stated, “I don’t care. When it comes to guys overseas fighting, I don’t care,” the San Diego Union-Tribune reports.
Hunter, a combat veteran and former artillery officer, has said he believes tobacco helps calm nerves of soldiers and improve morale in high-stress situations. Hunter has said he smoked while serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, but has since switched to vaping (electronic cigarettes) and occasionally cigars.
In 2010, the Centers for Disease Control found that 29% of veterans were smokers and that the smoking rate among those who served in combat could be as high as 50%, U.S. Medicine reported. Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease is four times higher than in the general population and 80% of COPD deaths are due to smoking, Dr. David Au, an investigator in the Veterans Administration Northwest Center of Excellence.
Tobacco related illnesses can also weaken combat readiness of troops, the Defense Department has said. Before health dangers were widely known, the military used to put free cigarettes in field rations, but halted that practice over 40 years ago.
In the past, tobacco companies routinely gave cigarettes and other tobacco products to U.S. soldiers, an action that led many soldiers to become addicted to nicotine, costing countless lives.
A new Food and Drug Administration regulation that just took effect bars tobacco companies from giving away products and imposes fines for violations. Hunter, in a letter to the FDA, Hunter wrote,” It would be unacceptable for the FDA to prohibit the distribution of tobacco products to service members who are fighting to protect those very rights that may be restricted.”
This isn’t Hunter’s first outspoken action on behalf of smokers. In February, he drew controversy for vaping on the House floor to argue against a ban on e-cigarettes on airplanes, CNN reported, with video.
But with the health hazards of smoking well known and $42,000 in tobacco industry donations lining his campaign coffers, the burning question remains: just whose interest is Rep. Hunter truly representing?