Next change for US Navy: no smoking on submarines

Submarines will be 'no smoking' by the end of the year. This follows the February announcement by the US Navy that women sailors will begin serving alongside men on submarines.

US Navy/AP
The USS New Mexico moored during the ship's commissioning ceremony, at Naval Station Norfolk Virginia Saturday March 27. The US Navy announced that it will ban smoking on all subs by the end of the year.

The US Navy will ban smoking on all its submarines this year out of concern about secondhand smoke.

The Navy determined that the ban on smoking was in order after testing aboard subs found “unacceptable levels” of secondhand smoke, despite air purification systems.

“The only way to eliminate risk to our nonsmoking sailors is to stop smoking aboard our submarines,” said Vice Adm. John Donnelly, commander of the submarine forces, in a statement.

The ban, first reported online by the independent Navy Times newspaper last month, goes into effect Dec. 31.

Submariners, who serve in what’s known as “the silent service,” will see a lot of change in their culture. In February, the Pentagon notified Congress that it would end the longstanding ban on female sailors serving alongside men in the close quarters of submarines. The Navy will begin integrating men and women in phases, with the first women probably not appearing aboard subs for another year.

The "no smoking" decision follows a Surgeon General report in 2006 that found involuntary exposure to tobacco smoke poses health risks. As a result, the Navy conducted a year-long test aboard nine subs, concluding that nonsmoking sailors were exposed to “measurable levels” of secondhand smoke.

The Navy will help sailors who smoke by offering programs to help them quit and making nicotine patches and gum available on each boat.

“While submarine duty is a dynamic and demanding job, the Submarine Force is dedicated to mitigating unnecessary risks to our sailors,” Donnelly said. “Exposure to a harmful substance that is avoidable, such as secondhand smoke, is unfair to those who choose not to smoke.”

Smoking is a sensitive topic among the stretched-thin military. Last year, USA Today reported, the Pentagon was considering banning on military property the use of tobacco by troops and the sale of tobacco. One in 3 troops uses tobacco, and many rely on nicotine as a “stress reliever,” according to the July 9 report, which also said that tobacco use had increased substantially since the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Five days later, the paper reported, the Pentagon was “reassuring troops” that it would not ban tobacco products in war zones. Defense Secretary Robert Gates is mindful of what troops go through in a war zone and didn’t want to make it harder, the paper quoted Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell as saying.

“He knows that the situation they are confronting is stressful enough as it is,” said Mr. Morrell during a press briefing. “I don’t think he is interested in adding to the stress levels by taking away one of the few outlets they may have to relieve stress.”

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