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Cigarettes and smokeless tobacco will remain fixtures in war zones, despite a recent Department of Defense-commissioned study that recommended eliminating tobacco use in the military, a spokesman for Defense Secretary Robert Gates said this week.

Gates believes stemming tobacco could put more unwanted stress on servicemembers deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, spokesman Geoff Morrell said Wednesday in Washington, D.C.

"I don’t think that he is interested in adding to their stress levels by taking away one of the few outlets they may have to relieve stress — and that may be chewing tobacco or smoking cigarettes," Morrell said during a press briefing.

The remarks highlight the DOD’s complicated relationship with tobacco and appear to be a push back against the Institute of Medicine study released in June that criticized the military for wanting to limit use while also selling and distributing cigarettes and smokeless tobacco.

Last year, military exchanges sold at least $627 million worth of tobacco at installations around the world, according to Navy, Army and Air Force exchange sales figures supplied Thursday.

Morrell said Gates had not read the Institute of Medicine study, which was requested by the DOD and Department of Veterans Affairs after tobacco use increased during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The study recommended tobacco be eliminated across the DOD over 20 years, beginning with a ban on tobacco use among recruits and officer trainees within one year.

Tobacco sales should be curtailed at commissaries and prices should be increased at exchanges to discourage use, the study group recommended.

Morrell said tobacco does cause an "enormous" expense for the military and "there may be things we can try to do to move toward that goal."

The military health system spent $564 million on smoking-related illnesses in 2006. The VA spent more than $5 billion in 2005 to treat a common respiratory ailment caused by smoking, according to the Institute of Medicine.

The study also found that smoking and tobacco use have profound negative health effects on servicemembers, from lost productivity to poor hearing and eyesight on the battlefield.

The institute concluded that tobacco use reduces the military’s readiness to perform, though withdrawal also has its dangers. For example, tobacco users going through withdrawal have more driving-related accidents, the study found.

Meanwhile, the military reaps profits from the sale of cigarettes and smokeless tobacco — money that is funneled back into community programs and upgrades at military installations.

Stars and Stripes reporter Kevin Baron contributed to this story.


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