Combat Readiness, Harm Aversion, and Promotion Eligibility: A Qualitative Study of U.S. Servicemembers Views on Tobacco Use and Control in the Military

Raj C. Singaraju, Janet N. Myers, Jill T. Owczarzak, Andrea C. Gielen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Introduction More than half a century after the first Surgeon General's Report on Smoking and Tobacco Use, tobacco use remains the leading cause of preventable disease for the U.S. military. Military tobacco use impairs troop readiness, decreases productivity, reduces servicemember physical performance, and leads to chronic illness in veterans. The Department of Defense (DoD) spends considerable effort to maintain a combat ready force, and tobacco use is contradictory to these efforts. U.S. servicemember tobacco use is estimated to cost the federal government more than $6.5 billion annually. The uniqueness of military culture allows for innovative means of tobacco regulation and prevention. Our study examines the U.S. Navy cultural and servicemember perceptions to inform future tobacco control research and policies. Materials and Methods We developed a behavioral model of tobacco use from existing literature. Using this model as a theoretical framework, our study qualitatively examined tobacco use in the active duty Navy population stationed in Okinawa, Japan. Thirty one-on-one interviews were conducted with active duty servicemembers. Sessions were recorded, transcribed, and analyzed in MAXQDA12. Results Multiple military-specific themes were identified. Themes: (1) tobacco use is a "right," (2) the military may limit active duty servicemembers' rights, (3) tobacco restrictions are justified if they prevent harm to others, (4) tobacco restrictions are not widely enforced, (5) smoke breaks are viewed as a legitimate reason to rest at work, and (6) the benefit of tobacco is as a stimulant. Novel tobacco cessation techniques suggested by our study include: (1) expand the buddy system to create an artificial support network for tobacco cessation and (2) tie promotion eligibility to tobacco use. Conclusions This qualitative study identifies military-specific themes from the tobacco user perspective that help to guide research and policy in reducing tobacco use among military servicemembers. Possible interventions suggested by our findings may include replacing tobacco breaks with fitness breaks to relieve workplace stress and support the culture of fitness, expanding the use of pharmacologic stimulants to replace tobacco when used to maintain alertness, and gathering social support for tobacco cessation from non-healthcare unit members. Further study is needed to elucidate the effectiveness of proposed interventions suggested by our findings, with the ultimate aim of policy changes within the military to optimize health and military readiness, while decreasing long-term health effects and costs of tobacco use.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)E175-E182
JournalMilitary medicine
Issue number3-4
StatePublished - Mar 1 2019


  • Cessation
  • Control
  • Military
  • Policy
  • Qualitative
  • Tobacco

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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