Hagel backs Navy review of tobacco sales ban

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel on Monday said that he is backing the Navy as it considers banning the sales of tobacco products on all ships and bases.

“I think it does need to be looked at and reviewed,” Hagel said at a Pentagon press briefing Monday. “I think we owe it to our people.”

Hagel did not endorse a ban on tobacco sales at bases and ships, but he did cite arguments used by Democratic senators who are advocating the Navy to ban tobacco sales.

Five Democratic senators wrote to Navy Secretary Ray Mabus urging him to move forward with the sales ban, saying that the healthcare costs for tobacco-related illnesses outweighed the loss of tobacco sales revenue.

Hagel alluded to the same point when asked about the potential ban on Monday.

“The healthcare costs are astounding, well over $1 billion just in the Department of Defense, on tobacco-related illness and healthcare,” Hagel said. “Now the dollars are one thing, but the health of your people — I don’t know if you put a price tag on that.”

Hagel noted that smoking is no longer allowed in government buildings or restaurants, and said that the military should look at what it can do at post exchanges and commissaries.

Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.), who is a retired Marine, wrote to Mabus on Friday pressing him not to implement the ban.

Hunter said that he was concerned that a Navy ban on tobacco sales would then be implemented by the other services, limiting or restricting “access to legal products that servicemen and women choose to purchase on their own.”