FAYETTEVILLE — The U.S. military's long, storied love affair with tobacco may be doomed.
The Pentagon, which actively promoted smoking during the two world wars and still subsidizes tobacco at PXs and commissaries, is considering a ban.
That's one recommendation from a panel led by a former dean of the School of Medicine at UNC-Chapel Hill that was asked by the Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairs how to reduce tobacco use in the military.
If Secretary of Defense Robert Gates accepts the group's suggestions, it would be a historic about-face for the likes of Camp Lejeune and Fort Bragg, where tens of thousands of young men and women learned to smoke amid a culture that regarded cigarettes as much a part of being a soldier or Marine as carrying a rifle.
"It's all I see on the bases," said Staff Sgt. Maritza Hunt, a squad leader at Fort Bragg.
Hunt, although not a smoker, was skeptical of how successful efforts to curb tobacco use would be.
"You have colonels and generals and all kinds of people who smoke," she said.
The military could end tobacco use within 20 years by gradually refusing entry to users, said Stuart Bondurant, dean emeritus of the School of Medicine at UNC-Chapel Hill.
"If the services take the full 20 years, practically everyone now in the military would be retired," he said.
The panel that Bondurant led issued a report in June that found that 22 percent of VA patients and 33 percent of active-duty troops use tobacco, compared with 20 percent of the U.S. population. Use is even higher among deployed troops.
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