From the Deckplates, The Smoking Lamp is Out . . . For Some

By Senior Chief Jim Murphy, U.S. Navy (Retired)

The smoking ban, intended to improve the quality of the submarine atmosphere, will be interesting to watch. The experiment lies in whether or not leadership can eliminate smoking without increasing smokeless tobacco use and Physical Fitness Assessment body fat failures. And can it be accomplished without the most advanced smoking cessation aides - Zyban and Chantix - which are banned from submarines ? These medications, like many others, have potential side effects, but so does quitting smoking.

Weight gain is the biggest risk associated with smoking cessation. Many ex-smokers replace cigarettes with exercise, but this will be difficult for deployed submariners considering the lack of exercise equipment and room for physical activity. Sailors can certainly be forced to not smoke under way, but many will continue the habit in port. Like countless others, they will find themselves on a roller coaster of quitting and recidivism.

The number of submariners who will choose smokeless tobacco products - already common in the services - is an important question. For many, it will help avoid the heightened aggravation and irritation that accompanies smoking cessation.

Most smokers freely admit the adverse effects of smoking on one's personal health and those around them. That's likely part of the reason for the reduction in smoking rates in the United States and the submarine community, but rates have declined voluntarily, not through mandates. As much as we may dislike it, tobacco is part of the military culture. Cultures change gradually, and forced artificial changes can be detrimental.

Submarines certainly have different environmental restrictions from other platforms, but why is the smoking lamp out in only that community ? If they are really concerned with health, Navy leadership should ban smoking in all ships and aircraft and within any other military working environment. Take this freedom of choice away from all Sailors, not just submariners.

Submariners are fairly outspoken, but they also know when to just follow orders. Most will say nothing publicly because speaking out against these decisions is looked on so unfavorably. Advocates for change will use this silence as a false sign of concurrence. That's kind of how it works; proponents are highlighted, and opponents are shut down while the silent are presented as indifferent. In fact, the silent have opinions, but many choose to remain quiet for fear of the consequences of speaking their minds.

Considering the changes directed by leadership, one might think the submarine community needed improvement. On the contrary, submariners enjoy a well-earned reputation. It's worth remembering that, while improvement is possible anywhere, boats full of smoking chauvinists fought heroically during World War II and were a strategic advantage during the Cold War. Submariners are masters at adaptation, but these changes are being made unnecessarily.

The Navy has recently experienced a crisis in leadership, evidenced by large numbers of commanding officers, executive officers, and command master chiefs being removed for cause. We have rates of sexual assaults, suicides, and post-traumatic stress disorder across the services that are far too high.

Instead of focusing on significant issues where truly positive changes can be made, Navy leadership continues to pursue policies that do not improve combat readiness, ignore the failed acquisition system, and look like political pomp. Social experiments like those at the Naval Academy and on board submarines are unnecessary and steal resources from issues that need honest attention and improvement.

Senior Chief Murphy transferred to the Fleet reserve on 31 December 2008 after 21 years of active service. He served his entire career in the cryptologic community and was a qualified submariner.

Senior Chief Murphy will transfer to the fleet reserve on 31 December 2008 after more than 21 years of active duty.

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