30 percent of veterans use tobacco; VA urges them to quit

Abbie Bennett
May 29, 2019 - 11:34 am

Photo by Cpl. Logan Kyle/Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center, Twenty-nine Palms

As many as 30 percent of veterans use tobacco, and the Veterans Health Administration spends billions treating tobacco-related issues.

May 31 is “World No Tobacco Day” and the Department of Veterans Affairs is calling on veterans to give up the habit.

As part of its “Better Starts Today” campaign, the VA is asking vets who use tobacco of any kind “to discover reasons to quit and take advantage of innovative VA resources to help them succeed,” according to a news release from the department.

Those resources include:

  • Quit VET: A national hotline for veterans to speak with tobacco counselors to make a plan to quit and get ongoing counseling after. Counselors are available from 9 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday through Friday at 855-784-8838.
  • Smokefree VET: A text-message program that provides veterans three to five text messages a day with advice and encouragement to help them stop using tobacco. Veterans can also text keywords, such as “urge,” “stress,” “smoked” or “dipped” any time to get an immediate text with a tip for coping with the urge to use tobacco, a slip or stress that can lead to use.

Overall use of tobacco in the military has been on the decline since the ‘60s, but rates of smoking remain higher in service members than among civilians.

Tobacco use has been connected to higher dropout rates during and after basic training, poorer vision, higher rate of absenteeism on active-duty and many health problems, according to a study ordered by the VA and Department of Defense. Tobacco use is most common in the Army and Marine Corps and least common in the Air Force, more common among men than women and is more common among younger service members.

About 30 percent of veterans use tobacco products, a rate “much higher” than most civilians, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

As of 2018, 21.6 percent of veterans surveyed said they smoked cigarettes, 6.2 percent smoked cigars, 5.2 percent used smokeless tobacco, 3 percent rolled their own and 1.5 percent said they used a pipe.

“These findings highlight the importance of further protecting the health of our military veterans,” said Dr. Corinne Graffunder, director of CDC’s Office on Smoking and Health. “We must redouble our efforts to help veterans quit and reduce the preventable suffering and premature death caused by tobacco use.”

The use of tobacco was highest among veterans with no health insurance, living in poverty, 18-25 years old, reporting serious psychological distress, with annual family incomes below $20,000 and with less education than a high school diploma.

Tobacco use among veterans is also costly to the VA. In 2010, the Veterans Health Administration spent about $2.7 billion on smoking-related ambulatory care, prescription drugs, hospitalization and home health care.

Quitting tobacco products is one of the best things veterans can do to improve their emotional and physical health and overall quality of life,” said VA Secretary Robert Wilkie. “VA also understands the challenges that come with quitting. That’s why we are using World No Tobacco Day as a platform to talk about the innovative tools that will guide Veterans toward a tobacco-free, healthy life.”

Want to get more connected to the great stories and resources Connecting Vets has to offer? Click here to sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Follow Abbie Bennett, @AbbieRBennett.