Why is smoking among veterans prevalent?
Numerous studies have shown that the prevalence of cigarette smoking is significantly higher among people in military service than in civilians. According to the Institute of Medicine their Combating Tobacco in Military and Veteran Populations report, male veterans (age 25-64) are more likely to become avid smokers than non-veterans. Other research estimates the prevalence of smoking to be up to 40% higher in veterans than in civilians.
There is a certain number of theories why smoking among veterans is common:
- Seeing superiors smoke – While on duty, young recruits may feel closer to their superiors if they do the same, and often feel obliged to smoke.
- The pleasurable effects of nicotine may be an appealing option to spend free, off-duty hours.
- Stress release – nicotine soothes the nerves.
- Government support– cigarettes are an award for accomplishments. Also, veterans get a discount on cigarettes.
Data indicates that most veterans started to smoke during their military service. As we all know, cigarettes are addictive, so the habits gained during service naturally continue once their off duty. Furthermore, stimulation by the government in the form of “awards” only strengthens this prevalence.
Smoking Among Veterans is it Connected to PTSD?
Many researchers and epidemiologists believe there is a strong connection between posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and cigarette smoking. To be exact, PTSD doubles the prevalence of smoking by 45% in comparison to the U.S. adult population in general. All in all, this leads to the conclusion that PTSD is also responsible for high rates of smoking treatment failure. Some veterans with PTSD may start to smoke to soothe their emotional state.
Cigarettes in the American Culture
In recent decades, cigarettes became an integral part of the American culture. In her work Consuming Smoke: Cigarettes in American Culture, Pamela Walker Lard says, “Cigarette smoking profoundly illustrates the dynamics of consumer culture. As quintessential consumer goods, cigarettes serve unmistakably to identify and rank their consumers”.
You could also say this is the case with veterans and cigarettes. Western culture formed an image of strong, tough fighters who smoke cigarettes. Frankly, this sends a message to young people who see smoking as a reflection of endurance and strength.
Help Veterans Quit Smoking
We know three facts for sure:
- Smoking among veterans is prevalent
- Smoking causes long-term health effects
- Quitting saves lives
According to CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) cigarettes cause ten times more deaths among veterans. Furthermore, even though most of them know about the health risks of smoking, they choose to ignore them.
The first step in helping veterans quit is to remind them about the damage they are causing to themselves and encourage the benefits of quitting. Every individual is different, thus demands a different approach. It is important to be optimistic, encouraging and ready to help without causing additional pressure.
In order to quit smoking successfully, make sure to pay attention to the following:
- Identify smoking triggers and try to avoid them (coffee, alcohol, seeing cigarette advertisements, boredom, stress)
- Resist urges to smoke with the help of certain techniques (breathing control, taking walks when craving a cigarette, listening to music, squeezing a handball, taking chewing gums or sunflower and pumpkin seeds, taking up a hobby, etc.)
- If these methods do not work, medication might be needed which reduces withdrawal symptoms
- Support groups and group therapies are always a good place where one can find peers to relate to
Nicotine Patch Success Rate Among Veterans
Although nicotine patches are a popular asset in quitting tobacco, there is no evidence of their high efficiency. However, according to the research Smoking Prevalence and Nicotine Patch Success Rate Within a VA Medical Center performed by Martin Hahn, nicotine patch therapy saw great success; 27% of patients (88 of 554 patients) were able to quit due to a nicotine patch treatment.
Vaping Success Rate Among Veterans
Vaping is another way of quitting tobacco. Electronic cigarettes found their place among many consumers who are trying to quit. As for veterans, success rates from the research conducted at Miami VA Medical Center indicate the following, “…of 32 subjects enrolled, 7 patients (21.8%) successfully changed from tobacco to electronic cigarettes during 16 weeks. No specific subject characteristics that predict who will successfully replace these kinds of cigarettes were identified.”
Overall, smoking is a dire problem that ails the entire nation; however, we should pay special attention to the veterans in our communities, and encourage them not to rely on cigarettes as a means of valor, courage, and emotional support.