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About 20 Patch American High School students who are part of Teens Against Tobacco Use attended Thursday morning’s fun run.
About 20 Patch American High School students who are part of Teens Against Tobacco Use attended Thursday morning’s fun run. (David Josar / S&S)

STUTTGART, Germany — Air Force Staff Sgt. Travis Rochelle never smoked and never will, yet he decided Thursday morning to make sure his friends stopped.

“Smoking is not good if you’re in the military. It affects your readiness,” said Rochelle, who at 7:30 a.m. was in the Patch Fitness Center with about 250 other people to boost the Great American Smokeout. “I’m here to support people quitting.”

The Great American Smokeout, held for the 27th time and begun by The American Cancer Society, is touted as a day for tobacco users to stop their habit for 24 hours, and then use that as a first step to quitting the use of tobacco products.

For the military, eliminating tobacco use has a more important meaning than just better health, said Marine Col. Richard Mills, U.S. European Command assistant chief of staff.

To stop smoking, Mills said, “is critical.”

“It is critical to military readiness. It is critical to physical and mental health,” said Mills.

Despite the push to eliminate smoking and other forms of tobacco use such as chewing tobacco and snuff, military members light up just as often as people not in the armed services.

“It pretty much mirrors America,” said Terry Gorham, the 6th ASG community health nurse.

Between 26 percent and 28 percent of people use tobacco products, she said, and American troops follow that statistic.

Gorham noted it might be easier to smoke in the military than in a civilian environment.

“I had one reservist come up to me who’s a lawyer. He said he never smokes,” Gorham said, “except when he puts on his BDUs [battle-dress uniform.] It’s just part of the culture.”

Military spouse Erin Collins, 32, who has smoked since she was a teen-ager, decided to give quitting a shot this week.

“Now’s a good time as any to stop,” said Collins, who quit before when she was pregnant with her first child.

The problem, Collins said, is to make a new habit out of not smoking.

“I quit before, but then the stress of being a mom and my husband’s deployments made it hard to keep the habit,” she said.

This time, Collins said, she has enlisted several of her friends to help.

“They said they’d take me out, bake me snacks. I think I can do it this time,” Collins said. “I have the support.”

Ralph Blair, a Morale, Welfare and Recreation worker in Heidelberg, has smoked for 20 years and said he won’t change his habit this week, nor does he plan to stop smoking.

“I know it’s bad for me, but I’m not going to quit,” said Blair, 52. “My health is OK and it calms me. Trust me … it’s harder to quit than you can imagine. I’ve tried.”

Stuttgart and the 6th ASG have become one of the toughest nonsmoking communities in the military. Months before a U.S. law took hold that barred smoking within 50 feet of federal buildings, the 6th ASG instituted the policy on its own. The MWR clubs and slot machine rooms went smoke-free, as did all offices. There were not even smoking lounges for smokers, shifting people to smoke outside.

To mark the Great American Smokeout, the 6th ASG had the brief fun run, which was attended by groups of people representing EUCOM, Defense Information Systems Agency, the 57th Signal Corp, students from Patch American High School, the U.S. Air Force and Marine Forces Europe.

Information tables were set up to promote nonsmoking tricks, and lollipops were distributed to fight the oral fixation of sticking a cigarette in one’s mouth.

Those activities are similar to what was held in other military communities.

At the 415th Base Support Battalion in the Kaiserslautern/Landstuhl area, the Kleber Clinic held a breakfast with a speaker who talked about the benefits of a smoke-free lifestyle.

Baumholder held a free bowling night at the Baumholder MWR Bowling Center, which is smoke-free.

The 100th ASG in Grafenwöhr, Vilseck and Hohenfels had a booth at the post exchange where people gave out no-smoking “survival kits,” lollipops and stickers.

Army Pvt. Adrian Royster, assigned to the 587th Signal Company in Stuttgart, attended the 6th ASG’s fun run to support his company and to urge his co-workers to give up smoking.

“You have to support them, but sometimes you have to be tough and honest,” said Royster, who is not a smoker. “If it takes harsh words to get them to quit, then I’ll give them harsh words.”

— Stars and Stripes reporter Rick Scavetta contributed to this report.

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