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Proposed Military Tobacco Ban Sparks Heated Debate

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(KCEN) -- A new Pentagon report urges the Defense Department to ban or limit smoking and tobacco use in the military.

The Senate Appropriations defense subcommittee took the issue up on June 18, as part of the 2015 budget request.

Members who support the proposal don’t want to promote smoking among troops by giving them tax breaks and discounts on tobacco products.

They also want to cut back on the $1.6 billion spent annually to care for military members living with tobacco-related illnesses.

The discussion has some in Fort Hood’s military community fuming.

“Cigarettes were an escape,” says Afghanistan, Iraq and Kuwait veteran Tal Clayter.

As recent as 1975, soldiers, like Army veteran Bill Cooper, were given cigarettes by the military with food rations.

Cooper says, “Tobacco is a legal product, and if you choose to smoke, you should be allowed to smoke."

Clayter only lit up in stressful combat situations.

There is no relaxing with a cold beer when lives are at risk.

”Meantime, you have no contact with family members or people that you can talk to,” Clayter says.

Clayter spends his days pitching in at the Harker Heights American Legion right outside of Ft Hood and estimates that about 85 percent of the service members who come through are smokers.

As a physician, former military doctor Colonel Retired Roy Marokus, MD, MPH, has seen smoking's ugly side.

“It’s hard, because basically, you're having to deal with people you know are going to die,” Dr. Marokus says.

Smoking can cause esophagus, lung, nose and throat cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), heart disease, and more.

While he’s seen the harmful health effects of tobacco, Marokus also felt nicotine’s relief while in combat overseas.

“You might not live the next day. Ok, I got it, and I did it,” Marokus says.

But barring those with post traumatic stress, he says it is too dangerous as a frivolous, stateside habit.

“It's got too many risk factors associated with it,” Marokus says.

Dr. Marokus has seen patients find victory in smoking cessation classes, group therapy and support, family support and some medications.

Cold turkey, he says, only works for some.

“But you have to give it a try by turning it off. I've seen success stories. It is possible,” says Marokus.

Still, it’s a decision Clayter says shouldn't be mandated.

“You take away another right that a fighting man should have,” Clayter says.

Some who started smoking just always kept picking it up.

Cooper says, “I agree it's unhealthy. It's an addiction is what it is, and I wished I had never smoked, but I just don't believe in telling a person they can't."

So, now the question is whether anyone should tell the ones putting their lives on the line for their country to put it down.

Reporter: Sophia Stamas sstamas@kcentv.com

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