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The Journal Gazette

Saturday, February 09, 2019 1:00 am

Furthermore ...

Smoking takes a toll on military readiness

Wednesday, the Senate Committee on Health and Provider Services voted to approve a bill that would raise the age at which Indiana residents may purchase tobacco, e-cigarettes and other nicotine-containing products from 18 to 21. A parade of witnesses enumerated the many ways passing Senate Bill 425 could help save lives, reduce public and private health care costs, and improve the business environment.

Most smokers begin before age 21, Sen. Randy Head, R-Logansport, one of the bill's authors, told the committee. “If we get them addicted, we've created smokers for life, with all the attendant costs that are attached,” he said. Head added that he had already moved to address the main argument employed by opponents of raising the age for tobacco purchases.

“The first thing they say,” Head said, “is, 'You're telling me an 18-year-old can sign up for the military and go fight and die for the country, but you're not going to let them smoke?' ”

Accordingly, the bill's authors carved out an exemption to allow those serving in or honorably discharged from the military before age 21 to continue to be able to purchase cigarettes and other nicotine products.

But two witnesses near the end of the hearing offered a different take.

It was no surprise to hearDr. John McGoff, past president of the Indiana State Medical Association, testify that his organization is in favor of SB 425. But McGoff added that the association opposes the exemption for young members of the military. A retired brigadier general in the Indiana Air National Guard, McGoff told the committee decreased fitness and health problems associated with smoking contribute to recruiting shortfalls and performance problems in the military.

“Premature discharges from the military are up to 64 percent higher for smokers,” McGoff said, “primarily because of increased injury rates for smokers, as well as decreased endurance and respiratory capacity, decreased wound healing and increased absenteeism. There's also an adverse effect on night vision and hearing.”

James L. Bauerle, a retired Army brigadier general who represents the advocacy group Mission Readiness, reminded the committee of some of the costs smoking carries both for the military services and for those who serve. According to the Department of Defense, he said, 175,000 current active-duty service members will die from tobacco-related causes. Tobacco-caused medical expenses and lost worktime cost the military $1.8 billion annually, he said, and the Veterans Health Administration spends $2.7 billion a year because of tobacco illnesses.

Bauerle urged senators to remove military exemptionsfrom the bill, then pass it “for our national security, for the safety and care of our citizens, and for the readiness and survival of our nation.”

Head said he would be happy to amend the bill on second reading.