Military health officials are pushing for higher prices for cigarettes and tobacco products at on-base stores to encourage servicemembers to stop smoking and chewing.

The proposal is part of a smoking cessation promotion related to Tricare, the health care program for servicemembers, according to Dr. Jack Smith, the acting deputy assistant secretary of defense for Clinical and Program Policy.

Currently, Pentagon rules require commissaries and exchanges to price tobacco products equal to or 5 percent below the cheapest prices in the base’s community, military officials wrote last week in response to questions about the change in policy.

Under the new policy, tobacco products on base would equal the local community price rather than undercut it.

"Parity pricing would be part of a broader program to encourage tobacco users to quit or reduce their tobacco use," Smith said in an e-mail to Stars and Stripes. Pricing in local communities, including at overseas communities, would be determined by the exchanges, according to Pentagon health officials.

The average national price for a pack of cigarettes is about $5, according to the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, a Washington-based group that encourages people of all ages to quit smoking.

But pack prices vary widely state by state, and sometimes city by city, as each local government adds taxes to the price.

According to military statistics, tobacco use among Department of Defense personnel costs DOD $1.6 billion each year in medical expenses and lost productivity.

The Department of Veterans Affairs reports that one in four vets has a smoking-related illness that adds up to $1.9 billion in annual health costs, Smith said.

Pentagon officials could not say when any change in the pricing might come, but said that the exchanges and Health Affairs both fall under the under secretary for Personnel and Readiness, who would make any decision.

A spokesman for the Army and Air Force Exchange Service said last week that officials there were not aware of any immediate plans to change the pricing policy.

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