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MacDill HAWC leads the way in effort to reduce tobacco usage

by Master Sgt. Paul Fazzini
AMC Public Affairs

SCOTT AIR FORCE BASE, Ill.- Having the highest percentage of Airmen passing the new fitness test or scoring 90 or above on career development course tests is something commanders can be proud of. However, having the highest percentage of smokers isn't the record Air Mobility Command wants to hold.

In AMC, 26.9 percent of Airmen use tobacco products in some form compared to the current Air Force-wide percentage of 26.8. That number reflects more than 13,600 Airmen whose lives are directly impacted by tobacco. Across the Air Force, 86,200 Airmen use tobacco.

According to the general's staff, more than 10,500 AMC active-duty enlisted members smoke, with the highest concentration in the senior airman and staff sergeant ranks. Officers comprise another 600 of the 11,000-plus AMC smokers. This mirrors the rates of users by rank in the rest of the Air Force.

In addition to those who smoke, 2,168 or 4.3 percent of all AMC Airmen use smokeless tobacco products. While this is slightly less than the Air Force percentage of 4.4, our overarching goal is to reduce both regular and smokeless tobacco usage command-wide, said Maj. William Reynolds, Operational Health Promotion and Public Health chief.

"Most people already know that tobacco usage has a negative impact on one's health, but it can also have a significant impact on the mission," Reynolds said. "There is a wide variety of negative impacts related to tobacco use, to include bad breath, odors, stained fingers, reduced athletic performance, and chronic diseases, ranging from lung cancer to heart disease. Less obvious detrimental effects of tobacco use can affect entire units. The rates for preventable illnesses and the total time spent away from work with smoke breaks increases as the smoking rate increases."

Quitting tobacco use can incrementally improve a person's health over time.

"Everything from improved circulation to reducing the risk of a heart attack gets better with each passing minute, hour, day, month, and year" said Major Reynolds.

Approximately 80 Airmen from around the command participate in local smoking cessation programs per month. They do so at a cost of roughly $17,000 per month or $200,000 per year for medications. There is no cost to active-duty military, retired members, or dependants who participate in base tobacco cessation programs.

Beyond the medications, cessation program managers are also using alternate methods to help Airmen quit. At MacDill AFB, Fla., program coordinators have turned to a device that registers when a smoker opens up the pack for a cigarette. The collected tobacco use data is then used to formulate a personal program designed to wean the Airmen off cigarettes.

"We realize some Airmen don't want to or can't use the patch or prescription medications to help them quit," said Joan Craft, MacDill's Health and Wellness Center director. "The 'SmokeSignals' device can help them reach their goal by helping to modify their behavior."

Once programmed for the individual, the device alerts the person when they can have a cigarette. The device distributes cigarettes at a lesser rate than when the person initially used tobacco and at the times when a member is most likely to want the tobacco product. This program helps the individual to gradually reduce tobacco use until the member is completely tobacco free.

At a cost of $119 per device, Ms. Craft said they are very cost effective because the device can be transferred to another patient after the 8- to 10-week program is completed. One device can be used for up to five members per year at a daily cost of $.32.

Ms. Craft said she has seen several Airmen successfully quit smoking after using the drug-free device. In fact, she's encouraging those Airmen to share their success story with other smokers.

"Word of mouth is always a great way to attract tobacco users to the program," she said. "When one Airman successfully quits, their willingness to share their story could potentially result in four or five others quitting. In fact, several participants in the first cessation class following the introduction of the SmokeSignal device said they were attending because they had seen or heard about other Airmen who used the device," said Ms. Craft. "That's Airmen leading by example."

Leading by example is exactly what MacDill and Charleston AFB, S.C., are doing. Both have tobacco-free dormitories. Both bases converted to tobacco-free in 2004. Since then, three other AMC bases have followed suit: Dover AFB, Del., Grand Forks AFB, N.D., and McChord AFB, Wash.

"The decision to convert dormitories to tobacco-free is determined at the local level where the commander is better able to influence the health and wellness status of his troops," said Major Reynolds. "However, the Command Surgeon staff is always available to help develop policies that work for each commander."

Living in a tobacco-free dormitory has its up side, according to Airman First Class Sacha Mays, a resident of a tobacco-free dormitory at MacDill. "When I first moved into the dormitory, Airmen would smoke along the breezeways where smokers and nonsmokers alike would have to walk through or past the smoke," said the 6th Logistics Readiness Squadron supply customer service representative. "I didn't like that.

"Now the dormitory smells better and is kept cleaner," she said. "In addition, bay orderlies don't have to go around picking up cigarette butts and trash from cigarette and cigar packs. Additionally, when smokers can't smoke in their rooms or right outside their rooms, the added inconvenience has been an encouragement for them to quit smoking."

According to Airman Mays, who has lived in the tobacco-free dormitory for nearly two years, not having to walk through the smoke has improved her quality of life. She also said it's nice not having to worry whether or not the second hand smoke will have an adverse effect on her health. (Courtesy of Air Mobility Command News Service)

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