Defense bill lights up cigarette debate

Anti-smoking advocates are blasting this year’s defense spending bill as another way to protect big tobacco in the United States.

Gregg Haifley, who leads the American Cancer Society’s lobbying arm, said he is “extremely disappointed” that Congress would prevent the military from banning tobacco sales on its bases — a move that was backed by the Navy secretary earlier this year.

“We are very discouraged that Congress is interfering with the military’s efforts to protect the health of the men and women who serve our country by tying the hands of armed services leadership,” Haifley wrote in a statement Thursday.


He said the action is “a direct reaction” to Navy Secretary Ray Mabus's push earlier this year to ban tobacco sales on ships and bases.

Still, the defense bill contains some good news for groups against smoking. One provision of the bill would eliminate price discounts for cigarettes on base, which the American Cancer Society supports.

Under the bill, tobacco products cannot be sold at a "price below the most competitive price for that product in the local community," which Haifley said will keep members from picking up the habit.

A study in 2013 found that tobacco products — which bring in $127 million for the military annually — were marked down as much as 17 percent compared to the same product at Wal-Mart.

Tobacco use also costs the Department of Defense about $1.6 billion a year in medical costs and lost work time, according to a memo obtained by the Military Times this year.