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Missing from the Pentagon's proposed ban on smoking in the military - Howard Tayler
Ramblings of a Happy Cartoonist
Missing from the Pentagon's proposed ban on smoking in the military
From this CNN article:
A new study commissioned by the Pentagon and the Department of Veterans Affairs recommends a complete ban on tobacco, which would end tobacco sales on military bases and prohibit smoking by anyone in uniform, not even combat troops in the thick of battle.

According to the study, tobacco use impairs military readiness in the short term. Over the long term, it can cause serious health problems, including lung cancer and cardiovascular disease. The study also says smokeless tobacco use can lead to oral and pancreatic cancer.

I read the entire article and never saw what friends of mine with military backgrounds have told me repeatedly: if you smoke, you get more break time.

"Hey sarge, I'm gonna go light one up. Back in ten minutes."

And you're off. You're still on the clock, you're still technically "on duty," but you're taking a paid break. And it's only available to smokers.

"Hey sarge. I'm gonna go lean against that wall with my hands in my pockets. Back in ten minutes."

That'll probably get you laughed at or worse.

Now I'm sure this will differ from unit to unit, base to base, deployment to deployment, and branch to branch. Please! If you read this and have military experience, I'd love to hear your take on it.

If it's as broadly true as I've been anecdotally led to believe then the military has one more really good reason to ban smoking - it will increase productivity.

Of course they should then employ some decent management practices so that the overworked, undercompensated men and women in uniform can find healthy ways to decompress, blow off steam, take five, or whatever. Because let's face it... whether or not you smoke, sometimes you just need to take a break.


56 comments or Leave a comment
pandoras_closet From: pandoras_closet Date: July 12th, 2009 03:50 pm (UTC) (Link)
I know a guy who was in the Navy. Smoking was just something they did.

wolfrick From: wolfrick Date: July 12th, 2009 04:00 pm (UTC) (Link)
While it wasn't in the military, I found that I was missing out on a lot of fellowship and decisions-making discussion from the management of my department by not being a smoker anymore.
I started taking smoke-breaks along with my manager, and hanging out while they smoked. It helped me get recognized, and be "promoted" to a new job.
Plus, breaks!
demonicgerbil From: demonicgerbil Date: July 12th, 2009 04:02 pm (UTC) (Link)
I'm not sure if you're serious when you mention the military and decent management practices.
howardtayler From: howardtayler Date: July 12th, 2009 04:11 pm (UTC) (Link)
I'm serious when I suggest that they should try using some. They already have a few, especially when you consider how effective they can be at the things they're really good at (which are things that most people find distasteful at best.)
(Deleted comment)
waterdragon From: waterdragon Date: July 12th, 2009 04:05 pm (UTC) (Link)
I used to take 'fresh air breaks' at my first base as I just needed to get out of the office and I disliked how the smokers seemed to get more breaks than me.

No one in my shop smoked at my second base.

At my third base we've got one or two smokers I work with, but they're not heavy smokers so they don't go out often. Though I really do hate the smell when the come back in since we work in a more or less enclosed area it takes awhile for the stench to leave their clothes.

So I for one would be for a ban of smoking in the military. I'm glad that most bases are doing well on only having certain designated smoking areas well away from the common walking paths.
zandperl From: zandperl Date: July 12th, 2009 04:40 pm (UTC) (Link)
Though I really do hate the smell when the come back in since we work in a more or less enclosed area it takes awhile for the stench to leave their clothes.

Have you mentioned this to them? I'm a non-smoking and smoke-allergic college prof and when I mention to my students that I can not only tell which of them are smokers, but also which are pot smokers, the smell is magically gone the next time I see them. The specific recommendation I make is for them to wash their hands after smoking, and I'm not sure if that's all they do or if there are other tricks, but for all but the worst chain smokers just my pointing it out to them is enough that they do something so I can't smell them anymore.
athelind From: athelind Date: July 12th, 2009 04:27 pm (UTC) (Link)
"Hey sarge. I'm gonna go lean against that wall with my hands in my pockets. Back in ten minutes."

I did that once or twice, in the Coast Guard.

"Lind, what are you doing?"

"Takin' a smoke break."

"You don't smoke."


saltamonte From: saltamonte Date: July 13th, 2009 05:29 am (UTC) (Link)
That was what I was thinking I'd do, too, but I agreed with Howard about the likely results. If it actually works, maybe I wouldn't get shot by my own men as quickly as I thought.
From: oldhans117 Date: July 12th, 2009 05:15 pm (UTC) (Link)
The logical way to cut down on smoking and DWI's would be to actually put the sin taxes back onto cigarettes and beer. The military bases are not out in the boondocks in Indian country anymore and there is no need for the cheep booze to keep the troops happy.

_eljefe_ From: _eljefe_ Date: July 13th, 2009 10:09 pm (UTC) (Link)
Seeing as how troops don't get paid enough anyway, there damned sure is a need for cheap booze.
jecook From: jecook Date: July 12th, 2009 05:24 pm (UTC) (Link)

Sanity break, fresh air breaks, "I need a drink- I'm walking over to the gas station on the corner to get a drink"- those are good alternatives to the traditional smoke break for non-smokers.

I don't smoke, never have, never will. However, I usually tagged along to BS and chat with my boss and other co-workers on their smoke breaks.

I think the only time I stated clearly that I was going out for a smoke break was that I was practically fuming with frustration at something one of my idiotic cow-orkers did one morning.
ambassadorona From: ambassadorona Date: July 12th, 2009 05:33 pm (UTC) (Link)
I think that banning smoking in the military would be too hard to impliment, but would be better for the health of our troupes and our Nation. I have seen the effects of long term chain smoking and tabbaco chewing. It's not pretty. I personaly am made sick by the smell of either and don't care to kiss relatives who have been using any.

On the other hand...

I spent a long time in a hospital ward where the only time people were allowed out was for smoke breaks. (Yes I was in a mental ward, put on your Big Girl Panties and Deal With It.) I went out with the rest of the loons on the supervised smoke breaks even though the smell made me sick, because I needed to see the sky.
amunthri From: amunthri Date: July 13th, 2009 06:36 am (UTC) (Link)
Banning smoking in the military is pretty easy; soldiers are self-mobile inventory, and do not have the same rights and privileges that civilians have ;)
They can't say 'no', you see. If you tell them they can't smoke, then that's the end of it; they can't smoke.

It wouldn't stop all the smokers from smoking immediately, but it would weed them out pretty quickly if there was a widely enforced prohibition. Even if you simply enforced a policy of 'no smoking on duty', when you keep someone on duty for 24+ hours, they're either going to break down completely or they're going to start getting over the addiction. You'd have to enforce the policy, but it could be done, so long as the commanders had the will to do so.

But then, there are entire units that have problems with crack and other drugs, so I wouldn't lay odds on such a policy actually being enforced; see my other post for complaints about the quality of leadership you get these days.
flemco From: flemco Date: July 12th, 2009 07:01 pm (UTC) (Link)
I wonder what the same group would say about the adverse effects of IEDs, 7.62mm rounds fired at our soldiers, or landmines?
r_caton From: r_caton Date: July 12th, 2009 10:46 pm (UTC) (Link)
Depends on whether they used "smokeless" or black powder, no?
bdunbar From: bdunbar Date: July 12th, 2009 07:01 pm (UTC) (Link)
If you read this and have military experience, I'd love to hear your take on it.

USMC. 1985 - 1993.

When I was in the infantry, smoking and dipping was just something that some guys did. You had a few minutes waiting for for your turn at the range? 'Smoking lamp is lit, gentlemen'.

When I lateral moved to data processing ... joining smokers in the smokers lounge for a break was never a problem. 'Course you tended to smell of tobacco smoke.

At one point in a five-man shop I was the only non-smoker. Of course I joined them on the back porch when it was time for a break.

But that was twenty years ago. With smoking locations further away and fewer I'll bet smokers today do get more of a break and they're not shared by smokers.

overworked, undercompensated men and women in uniform can find healthy ways to decompress, blow off steam, take five, or whatever.

One thing I know - Marines will always find a way to decompress. The CO might not always approve but there it is.
darkbunny From: darkbunny Date: July 12th, 2009 09:53 pm (UTC) (Link)
People in any job will find ways to decompress. Some employers just tend to push their employees toward explosive decompression.
ladyfox7oaks From: ladyfox7oaks Date: July 12th, 2009 07:19 pm (UTC) (Link)
Not military myself, but plenty of friends who are current or Retired military, and everyone one of them has told me similar stories about "In order to take breaks, gotta have a cigarette in your hand- otherwise you get yelled at to get back to work." Several of them told me point blank, "The Military made me a smoker. I didn't smoke when I joined. But you don't get breaks unless you smoke..."
ianargent From: ianargent Date: July 12th, 2009 07:19 pm (UTC) (Link)
I know of at least one guy who would take a candy-bat break when the union guys would go out for a smoke. I go out for second-hand smoke breaks myself (though the smokers are at least nominally limited to the same "one 15 minute break time each before and after lunch" as the non-smokers at my place - and plenty of people walk the parking lot on their breaks. Including myself during the summer. Which this year has been a glorious one for, incidentally)
darkbunny From: darkbunny Date: July 12th, 2009 10:03 pm (UTC) (Link)
It bothers me that at my job, I can't do that. We're allowed the two breaks, but we've also been told that we can and will be put on notice if we venture outside of designated areas. Those areas being the breakroom, the smoking area set up next to the loading dock, and the HR offices on the other side of the building. Prohibited areas include the parking lot, the parking garage, anything that requires crossing a street, all other buildings on that block, and all other offices in that building.
mccavity From: mccavity Date: July 12th, 2009 08:45 pm (UTC) (Link)
Quit smoking 2 years ago when I came back from being stationed overseas. It's still a big part of the military, and you're right about the smoke breaks. To this day, anytime I end up in the field, training, I have the desire to pull out a pack and light up the first time there's a little downtime. I don't even want the nicotine or menthol anymore, just the action is an ingrained habit.
shortpacked From: shortpacked Date: July 12th, 2009 09:34 pm (UTC) (Link)
Sounds exactly like my retail experience, pretty much. Unfortunately, my addictions don't merit frequent breaks. "Hey, boss, can I go to Target to look for new toys?"
howardtayler From: howardtayler Date: July 12th, 2009 10:16 pm (UTC) (Link)
"Bring me back a movie version of Jetfire and you're golden, kid. No Jetfire, though, and that Target trip is comin' out of your next check."
amunthri From: amunthri Date: July 12th, 2009 10:15 pm (UTC) (Link)
Army, got out in 2006. Bit of a long rambling post here, so the tl;dr is this: Yes, absolutely true.

This specific issue rarely caused a problem for me, as I spent the bulk of my time as the only or most junior soldier in my area of responsibility, so I was pretty much de facto screwed and stuck with all the work anyway. Incidentally, you've never seen 'too many chiefs and not enough indians' until you've been the only E-4 in a shop with a dozen folks who all outrank you, all but one outranking you by at least two pay grades.

I was signal corps, so usually didn't get stuck with anything particularly demanding... but it did matter when it came to any laborious detail involving a group.

Now, there are very many reasons I left the Army, but in the end it just came down to the simple fact that good soldiers don't get promoted as quickly as bad ones. Or, certainly, they don't get promoted any faster or more often. So the smoking thing happens, under the bad ones. The good ones would simply order the entire detail to take a break, where the smokers could smoke and the non-smokers could hang out in the shade.

But there was always just as much chance (or more) of getting stuck with a bad leader, for those details. Whatever their rank, if they had no business being in charge, it sucked. Out cutting the lawns / raking leaves / digging drainage ditches / PMCSing humvees, whatever? The smokers are all over there chattin' it up while I and two or three others do all the work.

I don't want to make it sound like all the leaders in the Army are bad leaders. I served with many that I was proud to work for, and would gladly have followed them into battle. But I served with at least as many who simply had no business being in uniform, but just hadn't ever done enough *wrong* for the Army to kick them out.

Soldiers for work details are chosen by one of two criteria- either they're useless, so a unit asked to part with 'one soldier, any soldier' is happy to be rid of them for the duration of the assignment, or they're a good responsible worker, sent in the theory that the faster the work is done, the less one's superiors will have to be bothered about it. In either case, of course, the soldiers sent on detail will not be the popular ones* ;)
The same is true for whoever gets put in charge of those details; usually they're in charge because *their* boss wanted to be rid of them. So any time you're on a work detail, you've probably got at least half the crew who will take advantage of smoking to slack off, and even odds the guy in charge will let them.

*Lovable, or unlovable, whichever I may be, I was not popular at many of my duty stations because nobody ever saw me; I would work in my little concrete box and only come out for shift changes and PT- which, because of my schedule, I almost never did with the other members of my unit. I got assigned to a lot of details simply because it was very easy for my CO to say, "oh, hey, this guy works for me? Never met him, you can have him."
mmol_6453 From: mmol_6453 Date: July 13th, 2009 02:19 am (UTC) (Link)
My brother explained the military analog of the Peter principle to me this way: If you're any good, you can make more money doing it in the private sector than in the military. So you get two categories of people in the upper ranks: Those who can't make it in the private sector, and the diggits.
mmol_6453 From: mmol_6453 Date: July 13th, 2009 02:16 am (UTC) (Link)

It's true.

When my brother joined the Navy, he didn't smoke, and was never going to; We've had family members get lung cancer and other disease from it. When I finally caught up with him again earlier this year, I learned that he now smoked. Why?

Because that's the only way he could take a break without getting pulled into something in the middle of it.
conflicted_hero From: conflicted_hero Date: July 13th, 2009 04:21 am (UTC) (Link)
It is pretty much any occupation where you get more breaks if one is a smoker, than if one isn't. At a certain large escrow company I didn't like to work for I had to announce that I was "going for a slurpee before I choose and kill three of you. Only I know the three."
gornul From: gornul Date: July 13th, 2009 04:28 pm (UTC) (Link)
Active duty Marine Corps here since 2007.

This sort of thing comes up every once in a while, and it's ridiculous. If something like this were proposed for any other segment of the populace it'd be ridiculous, so why is it somehow OK to talk about banning smoking outright for the military?

A) It's completely unenforceable. People will smoke off-base. People will smoke in bars. People will smoke at home.

B) Being out of shape or overweight "impairs military readiness in the short term" too, but you have to be considerably terrible before somebody starts micromanaging your behavior about it. More to the point, many people I know have gotten into dramatically better shape since joining the military even though they've picked up smoking along the way [raises hand]. Would I be even better off if I quit? Sure. Am I better now than I was as a pre-Marine Corps nonsmoker? Absolutely.

C) Bullets, IEDs, and RPGs are a much greater threat to the health of my fellow Marines than cigarettes. How about we take the money that's being wasted on these "smoking is bad for the troops" studies and spend it on armor and training? Can we maybe focus on a real problem here?

I could go on, but somehow I just noticed I'm standing on this soapbox-lookin' thing, so I'll stop at that.
amunthri From: amunthri Date: July 14th, 2009 12:21 am (UTC) (Link)
For A, it could be enforced while on duty, which would solve the disparity of nonsmokers getting fewer breaks... Hah... But that takes good leadership, and who's got that, these days?

For B, a solid focus on PT that works would be of more use, sure, but it's so much easier to make new rules than enforce the old ones, isn't it?

Plenty of soapbox for all, really.
testing4l From: testing4l Date: July 13th, 2009 06:39 pm (UTC) (Link)
If it's as broadly true as I've been anecdotally led to believe then the military has one more really good reason to ban smoking - it will increase productivity.

There is a major error in management there. Less time on breaks does not definitively correlate to more time working.

Beating someone as punishment deters them, but flogging will very rarely solve low morale.
_eljefe_ From: _eljefe_ Date: July 13th, 2009 10:15 pm (UTC) (Link)
By the time I got out of the USAF (2003), you couldn't really smoke anywhere anyway. As was mentioned before, it's money being spent in a way that can be enforced, and is bad for morale (have you been around a smoker that hasn't had a cigarette in 8 hours?!?!?).

Example: spend 12 hours on a entry control gate that is designated "non-smoking". Take an empty can of soda, turn the tab around and place a lit cigarette in the can so that it is held by the tab with just enough protruding so that you can take a drag. From 10 feet away, it looks like your drinking a soda, and the ashes stay in the can.
uplinktruck From: uplinktruck Date: July 14th, 2009 03:05 am (UTC) (Link)
I saw that in USA Today last week and plan to write about it as well. Talk about a way to bring the draft back...
strand From: strand Date: July 16th, 2009 08:24 pm (UTC) (Link)
Hey Howard:

Sorry to use your lj to send this, I can't find the email address for you or your co-authors on http://www.xtremedungeonmaster.com. I was looking at the intro page (http://www.xtremedungeonmaster.com/XDM_Intro.html) Third paragraph, first sentence, "Why would anyone right a book like this?" and wondered Why would anyone wrong a book like this by not copyediting it's website?
bktheirregular From: bktheirregular Date: July 23rd, 2009 02:10 pm (UTC) (Link)
Greek infantry conscript boot camp. Smoking was so pervasive that maybe one or two percent of the regiment were non-smokers. Officers, NCOs, boots. Had drill sergeants trying to bum a light off me, people asking me for paper and acting surprised when I tore a sheet out of a notebook because they thought it was obvious they were referring to rolling paper, people smoking in evening formation, sneaking drags whenever they could get away with it.

Of course, the common attitude there was to do as little work as one could get away with - I was an anomaly in that I figured if there was work that had to be done, best to do the job as best I could and get it out of the way. Led to some awkward moments with teenage conscripts getting yelled at because a gray-haired old man old enough to be their father was pulling more weight than they were.

If push came to shove, I'd rate the regiment as equivalent to a platoon of US Marines.

An understrength platoon.
mzmadmike From: mzmadmike Date: August 18th, 2009 03:37 am (UTC) (Link)
24 years USAF, Army Guard, Air Guard, Army Guard again, Air Guard again, two combat deployments. Smoked a pack a day until age 21, and smoked Camel non-filters, you pansies.

I've commented upthread that I'd heartily endorse a ban on smoking in uniform and on base and stop selling smokes on base. Productivity is a big thing. The smokers take ten minutes out of every hour. El Jefe mentions smokers having withdrawal problems. Sounds like a personal problem, just like withdrawal from drinking. Perhaps such people should find a job better suited to their temperament and self control. Or, they could quit, since it's a habit that offers zero benefits and damages health and finances.

And as for people who “dip,” the next time I find a can of spit and tobacco juice spilled over a seat, a computer, or on me, Ima punchem inna face, if I don't buttstroke them with a rifle. There can't be many habits more disgusting than that. Grow up.
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