Lawmakers from both parties came together for a rare moment of unity of Wednesday, as Democrats and Republicans joined forces on Capitol Hill to lambaste Pentagon leaders for what they call a half-hearted effort to curb tobacco use among active duty soldiers and veterans. Lawmakers have introduced legislation that will prohibit smoking indoors at any VA health facility and ban all outdoor smoking on VA medical center grounds by October 2022.
Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) criticized Pentagon leaders for a lack of leadership on the issue. He claims that not enough is being done to discourage tobacco use among young service members. He emphasized the results of a recent department study that revealed 38 percent of smokers in the military started smoking after they enlisted.
The bill is sponsored by Rep. Brad Wenstrup (R-OH) an Army Reserve officer and Doctor of Podiatric Medicine. He called the legislation “common sense reform” that reduces the dangers of secondhand smoke. It is estimated that the VA spends approximately $1.9 billion a year to treat illnesses related to tobacco and that one out of every five veterans enrolled in VA health care is a smoker.
Critics of the anti-tobacco efforts claim that attack on the personal freedoms of Americans who have already sacrificed for their country. Others cite the appetite suppressing qualities of tobacco products, arguing that deployed soldiers often develop the habit while combating hunger in the field.