- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 2, 2009


The ongoing discussion in The Washington Times (“Unlucky strike,” Opinion, July 16; “Learning how to fire — and smoke,” Letter, July 21) about our military’s smoking policies strikes very close to home for me. The death toll from World War II practices, continuing into the present, has been far greater from cigarettes than from any of our enemies’ weapons.

My dad was one of these casualties. My father, a high school football and track star from Huntington (W.Va.) High School (class of 1944), went on to play football at West Virginia University. As a scholar-athlete, he did not smoke. However, in the U.S. Army, free cigarettes were handed out and were, as has been mentioned, even included in C-rations. Soldiers were encouraged to smoke because of the extant belief that nicotine had a calming influence. In addition, the habit was presented as “the manly thing to do” (at least until the Marlboro Man died of lung cancer). My then-18-year-old dad fell for it, being just one of the guys, and started smoking.

While conventional lung cancer did not kill my father, his smoking contributed to his untimely death in 1984 at the age of 57 from mesothelioma, the often-fatal asbestos-related cancer often exacerbated by a history of smoking. We believe he received his primary asbestos exposure while working at a steel mill in the 1950s. It is well-documented that a history of smoking contributes to the vulnerability of lung tissue to asbestos particles (and other pollutants).

My father wasn’t the only victim. Veterans Health Administration medical records would show that the tobacco companies have killed more of our troops, albeit indirectly and unintentionally, than our enemies have.

Doctors used to prescribe cigarettes to pregnant women, supposedly to keep them calm and to help them deal with the effects of morning sickness. Slick magazine ads and radio and television commercials extolled the supposed “benefits” of smoking this brand or that brand. Even after the surgeon general’s 1960 report, the tobacco industry proceeded to poison our population.

That the tobacco-company bosses were not tried for treason is one of recent history’s most grievous injustices. At some point, we should shut the drug dealers out of our military bases.



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