A military "about-face" concerning cigarette subsidies is a welcome order.
Beginning last Friday, the Pentagon embarked on a campaign to discourage smoking in the armed forces by raising the price of cigarettes sold on military bases $4 per carton. That equates to 40 cents per pack, which may not be a hefty enough increase to encourage many people to kick the habit, but it's a healthy step in the right direction.As much as anything, it is a welcome retreat from days gone by when cigarettes were handed out gratis to servicemen and women. Since tobacco companies began pushing their products through military channels in World War I, it is way past time for their military marketing efforts to be curtailed. Unfortunately, the 35-percent increase will still leave cartons of brand-name cigarettes sold on bases a couple of dollars cheaper than those sold at private stores.
These reduced prices for cigarettes and other items are part of the compensation package for military personnel and their families. But it makes no sense to subsidize smoking with one hand while having to pay millions of dollars in government health-care costs with the other to help repair the incalculable damages caused by the habit.
Military moves away from the subsidy are especially welcome with recent release of irrefutable scientific evidence about the dangers of smoking and of long-time efforts by tobacco companies to cover up the addictive qualities of their products.
The many years of free cigarette distribution in the military have likely done more than any clever advertising campaign to hook two or three generations of Americans on smoking. Casualties created by the practice may even approach those inflicted in combat situations, though no statistical comparisons are available.
This move is a good start for the Pentagon. Though in the business of killing in the name of defense, the military shouldn't enlist tobacco as part of an arsenal used against itself.