First off, let me say this: I never received any free cigars or chew or anything else when I was in the military.  What the hell?  I feel like I got short-changed.

A California congressman, Representative Duncan Hunter (R), recently penned a letter to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), in which he sought clarification with regards to new rules passed by President Obama’s FDA that prohibit tobacco companies from giving away their products, or face fines.

Hunter’s letter, as reported by the San Diego Union-Tribune, stated that tobacco companies should be able to continue on with the “time-honored tradition” of donating their products to military members who are deployed.  Hunter claims the products, especially cigars, help improve morale and relieve stress in war zones.

Hunter currently serves as a Marine reservist, an artillery officer, and has made three combat deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan.  He states that he himself has taken advantage of free cigars while deployed, and stated that “You, or anyone else there [at the FDA] who doesn’t care to go fight, or wants me to do it for you, I get to smoke cigars.”

The Union-Tribune pointed out that the military has long tried to break service members of their nicotine habit.  Smoking has been prohibited on submarines since 2010, though most or possibly all of the navy’s surface ships still have designated areas for sailors to light up.  Smokeless tobacco is still permitted on subs, too.

A ban on the sale of all tobacco products on bases and ships was also considered a few years back, but was never put into place.  Tobacco use in the military is fairly widespread, as many service members smoke and consume various smokeless tobacco products.  Dip is still a highly sought-after commodity in war zones, in particular.  Military members tend to have higher usage rates of tobacco, as well, when compared to their civilian counterparts.

The Union-Tribune reported that Dr. Jonathan Woodson, the assistant secretary of defense for health affairs, stated in 2014 that tobacco use affected “dental readiness,” and adversely effected the Department of Defense’s ability to deploy.  Who knew that “dental readiness” was an integral issue?

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Hunter went on to write in his letter that, “It would be unacceptable for the FDA to prohibit the distribution of tobacco products to service members who are fighting to protect those very rights that may now be restricted.”  The congressman also stated that he still occasionally “vapes” with e-cigarette products, and enjoys the occasional cigar.

This author, for one, does not see any kind of blanket tobacco ban coming anytime soon, although, soldiers of 60 years ago probably would never have envisioned that there would come a day when cigarettes were no longer provided in their daily rations.  The latter practice become widespread during World War II, and continued on through 1975, at which time the military began to limit the use of tobacco products.  By 1978, the military had begun to regulate tobacco use, and had created smoking and non-smoking areas on bases and ships.

In June of 2016, California raised the legal age that persons could purchase tobacco products, from 18 to 21.  Hawaii has also passed a similar law.  However, unlike the law in Hawaii, California’s law explicitly exempts active duty members of the military from the increased age limit.  Eighteen year-old U.S. service members can still legally purchase smokes, dip, and chew in California.  They may no longer get them for free, though, in war zones; unless, that is, Duncan Hunter’s letter convinces the FDA to carve out an exemption for tobacco companies.

(Photo by Luis Sinco/Los Angeles Times/AP)