Pentagon officials urge end to services’ cheap cigarettes — nytimes.com

WASHINGTON, Jan. 7 The senior Pentagon officials in charge of manpower and health affairs have urged Defense Secretary Caspar W. Weinberger to end the sale of cut rate cigarettes in military commissaries and exchanges as a health measure, Pentagon officials said today.

The officials, speaking on the condition they not be named, said that Dr. William E. Mayer, Assistant Secretary of Defense for health affairs, had sent Mr. Weinberger a proposed directive that included an end to the military subsidy on cigarettes, and that Chapman B. Cox, who recently became Assistant Secretary for manpower, had endorsed it.

Mr. Weinberger has not indicated whether he will sign the directive. But appearing on a television call in program Monday, he said the Pentagon was »looking at a number of ways in which we’re trying our best to discourage smoking by the troops» because »it makes us less ready, and impairs our abiliity to do the missions we may have to do sometime.»

Mr. Cox and a spokesman for Dr. Mayer both declined to comment on their recommendation to the Defense Secretary. The Effects of Price

Surveys of military personnel, including data from a new study to be published next month, show that more than half the men and women in uniform are regular smokers, substantially higher than civilian rates.

Dr. Mayer has argued that this is in part because cigarettes sell for about 35 percent less than commercial prices at the commissaries, and 20 percent less at the exchanges.

»Price has an effect on young, inexperienced smokers,» a deputy to Dr. Mayer said. »I think you can at least make the argument that an institution that makes cigarettes very cheap and very available is in a sense pushing cigarettes.»

The aide also said smoking was encouraged in the military by such things as the tradition of drill instructors calling for »a smoke break.»

Officials said the proposal drafted by Dr. Mayerwould require all military outlets to mark up their tobacco products closer to the prevailing local price. Tobacco would still be cheaper than at commercial outlets because products sold on Federal property are exempt from state and local taxes.

The proposal has met strong opposition from the tobacco industry, a trade group of companies that sell to commissaries, and from organizations of active and retired military personnel. Arguments by Opponents

The opponents argue that without discount cigarettes to lure customers, the military shops would lose business. Pentagon officials said tobacco products were the biggest draw to post stores, accounting for about $600 million of the total $6 billion in annual sales at commissaries, Navy ship stores and post exchanges.

Opponents also contend that cheaper tobacco is a fringe benefit enlisted men and women have come to expect as a right.

Dr. Mayer has long been an outspoken critic of the subsidy. Officials said the support of Mr. Cox, a longtime confidant of Mr. Weinberger, was a significant boost to the effort to raise cigarette prices.

Lawrence Korb, who preceded Mr. Cox, had argued strongly against ending the subsidy for tobacco sales.

In an interview today, Mr. Korb said »My view is that if society allows people to smoke and drink, the military should allow access to tobacco and alcohol. And if we normally sell things at a discount, those things should also be sold at a discount.»

Mr. Korb said the proposed change would amount to »a pay cut» for enlisted personnel.

Acting on a proposal by Senator David Boren, Democrat of Oklahoma, the Senate last month approved a ban on cut rate cigarette sales as part of its annual military appropriation bill, but the measure was rejected by the House.

Mr. Weinberger can put the ban into effect on his own, Pentagon officials said.

Dr. Mayer’s proposals, contained in a broader directive governing health policy, include several other steps aimed at reducing smoking in the military, officials said.

One is a series of commercials for armed forces television and radio networks aimed at portraying smoking as unglamorous. Another is a restriction on smoking in most military health facilities, including hospitals and infirmaries.

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