House panel moves to block Navy proposal to ban tobacco sales on bases, ships

Sep. 26, 2011 U.S. soldier smokes a cigarette while manning his post in a bunker  in eastern Afghanistan.

Sep. 26, 2011 U.S. soldier smokes a cigarette while manning his post in a bunker in eastern Afghanistan.  (REUTERS)

House lawmakers approved a measure this week that would protect tobacco sales on military bases and ships and effectively block the Navy's plans to drop the products in a bid to get servicemembers to stop smoking. 

The House Armed Services Committee added language to a fiscal 2015 defense authorization bill that bans defense officials from enacting "any new policy that would limit, restrict, or ban the sale of any legal consumer product category" on military installations, the Navy Times reported.

The Pentagon said last month that no final decision has been made about banning sales to troops, but Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said he asked for a review to address the "astounding" health care costs associated with tobacco-related illness. 

A March 14 Defense Department memo issued guidance to all service chiefs:

"Although we stopped distributing cigarettes to our Service members as part of their rations, we continue to permit, if not encourage, tobacco use. The prominence of tobacco products in retail outlets and permission for smoking breaks while on duty sustain the perception that we are not serious about reducing the use of tobacco."

Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., who sponsored the amendment prohibiting the Navy's plans, said the move amounts to a hand-holding of troops who are responsible adults and should be able to make their own life choices, the Navy Times reported. 

“Just because you joined the service doesn’t mean you can’t live comfortably,” said Hunter, a Marine veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan. “If your goal is to make the military healthy, let’s outlaw war. That’s as unhealthy as you can get.” 

The measure passed by a 53-9 vote on Wednesday, with some Democrats objecting to limits on the military's efforts to promote health and fitness. In order for the regulation to become law, the  Senate would have to adopt the House measure.

Rep. Susan Davis, D-Calif., objected to the proposal, arguing that promoting good health is just as important as military readiness, The Washington Times reported.

"This is not telling people that they can’t use tobacco, clearly people can go across the street almost wherever they are and purchase that," Davis said. "But we are sending a kind of double message, I think, by not saying that we recognize tobacco can cause damage, not only to a sailor, but also to their family, second hand smoke we know is a concern."

The Navy Times reported that measure covers any product legal in the U.S. as of Jan. 1, including alcohol and sugary drinks. The measure does not cover marijuana.

Fox News' Jennifer Griffin contributed to this report.

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