The prevalence of smoking among US veterans is often considered a forgotten epidemic. That’s because, despite limited studies, concrete evidence shows that veterans consistently smoke more than the general population and active U.S. military service members alike. A number of factors contribute to veterans’ smoking habits, including baseline cigarette interest.
However, alcohol consumption, life stressors, and mental health conditions, among others, can also impact a veteran’s inclination to smoke. In this article, we take a closer look at why veterans take up cigarette smoking and why it is crucial that we understand this connection.
Where cigarettes and veterans meet
According to the Institute of Medicine, smoking affects military readiness because it can impair physical performance, endurance, and cognitive function. It can also result in adverse health effects such as cardiovascular disease, respiratory disease, and impaired wound healing.
However, smoking is also known to help many people cope with stress. That’s because nicotine stimulates the release of the pleasure chemical dopamine in the brain. US Army combat veteran, The Buffalo Wrangler, thus explains in his guest blog post entitled “Revelations”, that many find solace in smoking. He illustrates how a late-night trip to get a pack of smokes from the local mini-mart had become a daily routine after a whole decade of retirement when he last felt he had a purpose.
That said, a culture of cigarette smoking has long thrived in active military bases, too. In fact, over half of all US Air Force recruits reported in a 2020 survey that they only started smoking after enlistment. The stress from living a structured military life thereafter encouraged soldiers to continue the vice — and tobacco companies had even deliberately exploited this by advertising cigarettes in 1917 as a great way for soldiers to escape the stress of war psychologically.
Later, many veterans who either struggle with PTSD or labor to reintegrate back into society would continue to seek relief from the established habit. Designated smoking areas would continue to be a popular social circle for many military veterans to share cigarettes and information about deployment or other soldiers — much like the function of the “water cooler” at corporate working places.
How can veterans quit smoking?
Smoking has helped many veterans cope with the emotional and mental weight of their service. However, this has also contributed to the higher mortality ratio for cigarette-smoking veterans. So, it is key that we control cigarette use and encourage veterans to shift to healthier alternatives for stress management.
Recently, many veterans were found to be interested in vaping. This isn’t surprising given that electronic cigarettes from JUUL and other companies are popularly advertised as an alternative to cigarettes, and the company’s 2019 campaign even included testimonial endorsements from military veterans. However, e-cigarettes are not approved by the FDA as a cigarette cessation tool, and growing evidence shows that e-cigarettes are actually associated with cigarette initiation.
Nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) products, however, are approved by the FDA. One of the biggest movers in the market is the ZYN nicotine pouch, which comes in multiple flavors to cater to different users. The ZYN wintergreen pouches listed on Prilla are a favorite within the industry due to their icy burst of flavor and highly satisfying tobacco-free nicotine kick, making them ideal for those who like to smoke menthols. This is acquired using high-tech distillation procedures that ensure absolutely zero tobacco goes into the product. Similarly, NRTs like Nicorette gum, which are known for their invigorating flavors like berry and citrus, are helpful because they mitigate withdrawal symptoms while also doubling as chewing gum. For some who experience stress, chewing can act as a self-soothing practice. Veterans who tremendously struggle with withdrawals tend to pair these kinds of modern oral nicotine products with a topical nicotine patch from NicoDerm or Habitrol. The 24-hour usage of this latter NRT product ensures that cravings are held at bay even during the night and through sleep.
Otherwise, veterans can opt for clinical practice models to overcome cigarette cravings. 2021 research proposes that US veterans can benefit from cognitive behavioral therapy, cognitive processing, mindfulness-based stress reduction, and biofeedback. These can help veterans restructure any negative belief systems to more effectively manage daily stressors and decrease dependence on tobacco.
Quitting smoking can be challenging, especially when one has been reliant on the vice for many years. That is why it is important that we understand why many veterans take up smoking and craft more tailored approaches to improve our veterans’ quality of life.