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Tobacco Companies Have Clout Over The Pentagon!

There is a twelve-person committee in Congress called the House National Security Committee. They have a sub-committee. It is that panel’s job as oversight civilians to, as I understand it, sort of police the military.

They are responsible for military morale, welfare and recreation. Remember the "welfare" part for later.

The military sells $458 million of cigarettes and chewing tobacco a year in government-subsidized supermarkets called commissaries, at prices 30% to 60% less than prices in commercial grocery stores.

Commissaries sell 58 million cartons of cigarettes a year (to military personnel). That’s 11,600,000,000 (eleven BILLION with a B) packs!

In addition to that, the Military Exchanges sell another $288 million a year in tobacco products.

Arguably, the United States government is the largest single distributor of cigarettes in the world.

Clearly, it is the only one to lose millions of dollars doing so.

Now the Pentagon wants to change that. A new policy has been put forth. The new policy could cut tobacco sales at commissaries in half and cost tobacco companies as much as $200 million a year in sales.

Under the Pentagon’s plan, the government would end its subsidy of commissary tobacco products in an effort to discourage tobacco consumption among troops, and presumably save the taxpayer a few dollars at the same time.

The subsidy now amounts to at least $30 million a year. Tax dollars, every one.

Smoker or not, we pay for GIs to smoke at half price. But that’s not the really bad news.

On average, more than one of every three members of the military smokes tobacco. Tobacco use by military personnel costs the agency (read that as taxpayers, you and me) more than $900 million a year in medical expenses and lost productivity.

Makes the $30 million we give the tobacco companies look like pocket change, doesn’t it? So the total taxpayer-borne expense is just shy of a $1 billion a year, and climbing.

But at the urging of the tobacco industry’s powerful lobby, a panel of the House National Security Committee has demanded in a letter signed by all 12 members that the Pentagon cancel the price increase.

Can you believe these guys? Talk about puppets!

Tobacco, the congressmen said, is not the issue; the main issue, they say, is that the Pentagon failed to consult Congress and violated federal pricing rules that require the commissaries to sell all their products at "the lowest practical price."

In other words, we’ve got to pay the tobacco companies to poison our troops.

It’s the law!

Of course, these people must see selling the cigarettes at half price as "practical".

I found it very interesting that 11 of the 12 Congressmen on the House panel who signed that letter, trying to block the Pentagon’s new plan, had received money (contributions...or bribes?) in the two previous years from tobacco companies like Philip Morris.

Many panel members are from tobacco-growing states like Virginia, and defended the tobacco industry and their decision.

One such is Rep. Saxby Chambliss, R-GA, whose district includes one of the country’s largest Brown & Williamson Tobacco production plants.

Apparently Congressman John McHugh, representing New York's newly redrawn 23rd District, found the exposure to his conflict of interest so clearly and obviously unethical and embarrassing that he returned a $500 contribution from Brown & Williamson.

Unless I’m mistaken, ANY such contribution is completely illegal. And remember, his job is the welfare of the military.

The tobacco industry had circulated a five-page memorandum throughout Congress, prepared by a very expensive Washington law firm, saying why we should keep giving the tobacco subsidy.

It sounds to me like they bought the best lawyers they could to defeat the new policy.

32% of military personnel use tobacco products, compared with 25 percent of the general population. Nearly 50% of all junior enlisted Army personnel smoke cigarettes or chew tobacco.

However, retirees are buying 70% of the tobacco products. Apparently the oldest and the youngest are smoking the most.

Diseases attributed to tobacco use account for about 16% of the deaths in the military.

The combined total of deaths by cigarettes now exceeds all other causes of death to soldiers combined, including all wars.

So who’s the real enemy?

It does look like common sense may prevail. There have been arrangements made to negotiate and implement the Pentagon’s policy.

If an arrangement was not made by a certain date, commissary officials said they would pull tobacco products off their shelves until an agreement is reached.

As of this writing, I do not know if the agreement is in place. However, I do know that all but five Navy and Marine Corps commissaries stopped selling tobacco products years ago.

Perhaps, in the end, our government will desist from assisting in the early demise of its troops by selling them poison at a discount.

But the point of the above is, look how hard some will try to keep killing them this way, just for a buck.


August, 2006
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