By André B. Sobocinski, BUMED Historian
It is ironic that in an era where chewing gum was barred aboard Navy ships, chewing tobacco was flourishing.
In 1911, the Navy Paymaster-General established a special “Chewing Board” comprised of enlisted Sailors who would personally test the sample plugs of tobacco submitted by the fifty prospective vendors.
Any doubts that King Tobacco was a patriot would be silenced in the world wars. During the “Great War,” tobacco was called “indispensable” to service personnel by General John Pershing and tobacco rations were issued to every Sailor, Soldier and Marine.(1) In World War II, packets of cigarettes were sold at military stores tax-free for just a nickel and distributed free to troops overseas.(2) At the end of the Second World War, when the Armed Forces began rationing tobacco at military establishments, a ration card could earn you six packs of cigarettes, 24 cigars or four ounces of tobacco weekly. Even German and Japanese war prisoners were allocated smokeless tobacco.(3, 4)
Military publications from the 1940s and 1950s (e.g., Our Navy) are chock full of cigarette ads championing Camels, Chesterfields, and Lucky Strike cigarettes and glorifying their “mildness” and “flavor.” Wartime films of the era go far to put a heroic face behind every cigarette.
The concept of tobacco cessation in the military came into its own in the 1960s. Only days after U.S. Surgeon General Luther Terry’s groundbreaking report condemning smoking (January 11, 1964), the Navy initiated its first anti-tobacco policy. On January 14, 1964, Navy Surgeon General Rear Adm. Edward Kenney stated that the Navy would no longer be involved promoting “smoking or imply an official endorsement of the alleged psychological or social merits of cigarette smoking.”(5) Kenney would also call for the cessation of cigarettes in Navy and Marine Corps rations.(6) By the end of January 1964, the Department of Defense prohibited the distribution of cigarettes as gifts at all military hospitals. (7)
During 1964, we see an early anti-smoking cessation study aboard submarines. As part of “Operation No Smoke,” 125 Navy officers and enlisted personnel aboard the Polaris submarine USS Nathan Hale go three-months without cigarettes. This voluntary (and “unofficial”) effort lead by Cmdr. Robert Thompson, Medical Corps, USN and Chief Hospital Corpsman Gene Jarvala was considered a means of reducing the operating costs of submarines. Thompson believed the that smokeless environment would “reduce” the need of “aerosols” and thus require “less use of electrostatic precipitators” for purification. Some 46 years later, smoking would officially be banned aboard Navy submarines.(8)
(1) Moyer, David. The Tobacco Reference Guide. (www.tobaccoprogram.org)
(3) “Outlook Better but Services to Ration Fags.” The Washington Post; May 17, 1945; p5
(4) “Navy Ends Tobacco Rationing.” The New York Times; August 22, 1945; p14.
(5) RADM Edward Kenney Memorandum for Secretary of the Navy, dated January 14, 1964. BUMED Correspondence Files, Record Group 52, National Archives II, College Park, Md.
(7) “Pentagon to Ban Cigaret [sic] Gifts.” Chicago Tribune, Jan 31, 1964. p5.
(8) Landry, John. “’Operation No Smoke.’ Polaris Sub crew aims to kick the tobacco habit with three-month test of lobeline sulphate and will power.” The Hartford Courant; March 29, 1964.