By Barbara Starr and Laura Koran
CVS Caremark’s decision to stop selling tobacco products was applauded Wednesday by Navy Surgeon General Matthew Nathan, a physician who leads the Navy’s Bureau of Medicine and Surgery.
In an interview with CNN Pentagon Correspondent Barbara Starr, the vice admiral called smoking prevention “a strategic issue for the country.”
“I would certainly compliment CVS and their corporate decision,” said Nathan, who believes other companies are likely to follow suit.
“I think we are seeing a real resurgence of understanding of just how deadly, damaging and debilitating cigarettes smoking as well as other tobacco-related products are on our population,” Nathan said.
“Especially on our young people.”
For Nathan, the consequences of smoking stretch beyond individual health effects—it can take a toll on overall military readiness.
“If you have people who are getting on in years who are starting to suffer the consequences of smoking, and/or their family is, then you can't be as ready for your mission requirements as you should be,” said Nathan. “So I am all in.”
He also views the prevalence of smoking as a failure of leadership.
“Most of us who are in the healthcare related leadership business believe that if we have any young person today, military or not, who starts smoking or using tobacco related products, we failed,” said Nathan. “We have failed to impress upon them, the dangers and inherent risks they are taking.”
The Navy has taken initiatives in recent years to discourage smoking among service members by offering smoking cessation programs and reducing the availability of tobacco products (as well as alcohol) on certain military bases. In 2010, smoking was banned below deck on all the Navy’s submarines.
When Nathan was commander of the Naval Medical Center in Portsmouth, Virginia, in 2008, he reduced the number of outdoor smoking areas on the grounds, making the center mostly tobacco free. Many other military installations have taken similar measures.
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, smoking prevalence is higher along military personnel than it is for the civilian population, especially for those who are currently deployed. Smokeless tobacco products are also growing in popularity.
By Nathan’s own admission, military culture has a history of tobacco use that is difficult to break.
“Our culture for many years in the military has been one of gathering around the smoking lamp,” said Nathan. “We recognize we have our work to do.”
CVS Caremark plans to stop selling tobacco products by October 1.