Vice Squad
Monday, March 01, 2004
Tobacco and the Military

Cigar and pipe smoking is way up among US soldiers, even as cigarette smoking has fallen, according to this fine article in the St. Petersburg Times: "The Defense Department survey noted a "sharp increase" or "strong resurgence" in cigar and pipe smoking, rising from 18.7 percent in 1995 to 32.6 percent in 1998."

The article has some nice historical background: "During World War I, the government began including cigarettes in soldiers' rations. It was a time before medical evidence linked illness with cigarettes, historians said. In fact, many at the time viewed smoking as glamorous.

Gen. John J. Pershing, who commanded the American Expeditionary Force during World War I said: 'You ask me what we need to win the war? I answer tobacco as much as bullets.'" Cigarettes were removed from military rations in 1975.

The connection between vice and military service is deep and ancient. Soldiers frequently have been rewarded with tobacco, caffeine, chocolate, and alcohol -- military service can be extremely tedious, and these substances have long been popular within the military. Soldiers based abroad pick up some vice habits -- heroin in Vietnam, for instance -- that they sometimes bring back home. Alternatively, soldiers can spread their existing habits to new territories -- Coca Cola has been a major beneficiary of US troops stationed abroad. The role of troops in globalizing drugs is discussed in David Courtwright's Forces of Habit: Drugs and the Making of the Modern World, which Vice Squad has previously discussed.

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