Soldiers who smoke have increased injury risk;
reduced muscle endurance
Chanel S. Weaver, Public Affairs Office
U.S. Army Public Health Command
Nearly one-third of active-duty service members smoke, and that figure
increases among troops in a combat zone, according to the 2008 Department of
Defense Survey of Health-Related Behaviors.
Most Soldiers know that smoking cigarettes can eventually
cause lung cancer and emphysema, but one does not have to wait 20 or 30
years to experience the adverse effects of smoking.
Multiple studies by U.S. Army Public Health Command
scientists show that smoking has immediate health effects—such as increased
injury risk and diminished physical performance.
“Past studies of Army basic trainees show the risk of injuries among
Soldiers who smoke was as much as 90 percent higher than nonsmokers,” said
Michelle Chervak, senior epidemiologist at the USAPHC.
“From past data as well as analysis of recent data collected
on operational units, we can definitely say that smokers have a greater risk
of any injury, and more specifically, overuse injuries—damage to
musculoskeletal tissue that accumulates with repetitive activities such as
running,” she added. “Higher injury risk is likely due to factors that
impair the body’s healing and repair processes.”
USAPHC studies have also demonstrated that smoking
negatively impacts muscle endurance, especially as Soldiers get older.
“Our data show that smokers perform fewer push-ups and
sit-ups on the Army Physical Fitness Test,” said Chervak.
Smoking can also affect mission readiness. USAPHC studies
have also shown that Soldiers who use tobacco have reduced night vision and
mental sharpness, and increased risk of heat and cold injuries. Nicotine
decreases oxygenated blood flow, resulting in a 30 percent reduction in
night vision for normal eyes, and 50 percent reduction in those wearing
corrective lenses. Likewise, smoking also causes reduced blood flow to the
extremities, which leads to more heat and cold injuries as the body is
unable to cool and warm them, especially fingers and toes.
More Adverse Effects of Smoking
Not only does smoking have a negative effect on a Soldier’s performance, it
also has poor health consequences for the smoker and those in his/her
President Obama’s National Prevention Strategy report states
that cigarette smoking causes approximately 443,000 U.S. deaths each year.
These deaths occur as a result of lung cancer, chronic bronchitis, strokes,
heart attacks, emphysema and other conditions.
Second-hand smoke can also be damaging to others’
“If Soldiers knew the effect that smoking has on their
children, I think more would be encouraged to quit,” said Col. Heidi
Warrington, chief nurse executive at the USAPHC.
Children who are exposed to second-hand smoke are at increased risk of
suffering from chronic ear infections, asthma and learning disorders, said
The financial costs of smoking are also significant. A
recent Army Times article stated that tobacco use costs the Pentagon $846
million a year in medical care and lost productivity. Not to mention the
cost to the smoker, with cigarettes currently ranging from $5 to $12 a pack.
Benefits of Tobacco Cessation
More than 80 percent of adult cigarette smokers start before their 18th
birthday, so a key tool to preventing tobacco addiction is to encourage
smokers not to start, said Warrington.
For those who wish to reduce smoking, there is good news.
USAPHC studies show that the risk of a heart attack
decreases 24 hours after stopping smoking and, after one tobacco-free year,
the risk for heart disease is one-half that of smokers.
Because the nicotine in cigarettes is so addictive, quitting
the habit is not easy. But those who wish to quit smoking should not be
discouraged, said Warrington.
“Any reduction in tobacco use is considered a success,” said
Warrington. “Soldiers who are having trouble quitting should focus on
reducing the amount of cigarettes they smoke—with an ultimate goal of
achieving a tobacco-free lifestyle.”
Many military medical treatment facilities offer tobacco
cessation classes, and physicians can prescribe medications to help smokers
kick the habit. Many communities across the United States also offer tobacco
cessation assistance and counseling.
For more information on smoking cessation, visit:
Quit Tobacco—Make Everyone Proud (This site’s “Contact us” page includes a
San Antonio Military Medical Center Quitline, 1-877-SAMMC-11.
American Lung Association,
American Cancer Society,
Become an EX, Online Tobacco Cessation Program,
Editor's Note: Army Public Health Nursing tobacco use cessation
classes meet three times per month from 9 to 11 a.m. in the Preventive
Medicine classroom at Clark Hall. If you've tried but have been unsuccessful
in your attempt to stop tobacco use, APHN can help. Classes are open to all
active duty and retired military, military family members and department of
defense civilian employees. To reserve a seat in a class, please call Army
Public Health Nursing at (315)772-6404.