Although the Department of Defense is considering phasing in a ban on tobacco use in the military over as many as 20 years, The Pentagon reassured troops this week that it won’t ban tobacco products in war zones, according to Defense Secretary Robert Gates’ press secretary Geoff Morrell. But the International Premium Cigar & Pipe Retailers Association isn’t taking any chances.
"This comes down to personal choice and the pleasure of enjoying tobacco – especially good cigars and pipe tobacco – and the individual rights for which our military are fighting," said Chris McCalla, legislative director of the IPCPR. His group’s members include more than 2,000 small business owners of smoke shops and manufacturers and distributors of hand-made cigars, pipes and pipe tobacco. They represent some five percent of the tobacco industry.
"IPCPR members regularly send supplies of hand-made cigars to our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan to enjoy during their moments of relaxation. If anyone has earned the right to such pleasures, it’s our troops, especially those in combat," he said.
McCalla pointed out that most people have had the image of officers smoking cigars but that cigars are enjoyed by all strata of military personnel, not unlike civilians.
"Smoking throughout the ranks is not restricted to one level or another, nor should it be. Whether they are Generals or privates and airmen, Admirals or seamen, they all have equal rights to enjoy a legal product," McCalla said.
The IPCPR isn’t waiting 20 years before it begins its fight for the rights of military personnel to enjoy tobacco, he explained.
"We let the anti-tobacco forces get away with spreading a lot of misinformation about smoking and secondhand smoke over the last two decades. Much of their so-called research is highly questionable and their conclusions are particularly biased. As a result, smoking bans have spread unfairly. We’re not going to let that happen by default in the military," he said.
McCalla emphasized that individual rights are attacked every time there is a legislated smoking ban.
"Each smoking ban chips away at our individual rights which leads to loss of other rights, whether or not we smoke cigarettes, premium cigars or use other tobacco products. It’s a right of choice and we are all affected," he said.