US soldiers serving in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan will still have access to cigarettes despite a report urging a tobacco-free military force, the Pentagon has said.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates has no plans to ban the sale of cigarettes or chewing tobacco for troops doing combat duty, his press secretary Geoff Morrell told reporters Wednesday.
"He knows that the situation they are confronting is stressful enough as it is, and I don't think he is interested in adding to their stress levels by taking away one of the few outlets they may have to relieve stress," Morrell said.
"And that may be chewing tobacco or smoking a cigarette."
The comments came after a recently released report by the Institute of Medicine (IOM) report called for adopting measures that could make the military "virtually tobacco-free within 20 years."
The Defense Department spent 564 million dollars in 2006 treating tobacco-related illness in the military, the report said.
It found the proportion of smokers in the US armed forces is higher than in the civilian population, with around 32 percent of soldiers using tobacco products, compared to 20 percent of civilians.
Military personnel on deployments were twice as likely to be smokers than their home-based counterparts, said the report, which was sponsored by the Pentagon and the Veterans Association.
Morrell said Gates would carefully study the report, which cites subsidized tobacco products on military bases as a contradiction to the Pentagon's stated policy to discourage smoking.