WASHINGTON– Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates has made it clear he does not plan to restrict tobacco use among troops in war zones, the Pentagon’s press secretary said today. 

Gates has yet to see a report commissioned by the Defense Department that proposes a ban on smoking in the military, Geoff Morrell said. 

The National Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Medicine completed the study last month, which reportedly recommends strict controls to limit new users from entering the military and to curtail use among those already serving. 

The secretary is likely to consider some of the report’s recommendations, but none that ban tobacco use among deployed forces, Morrell said. 

“[Gates] has been very clear to me up front that one of the things he is not prepared to do is to restrict use of tobacco products in combat zones,” he said. 

“We are fighting two wars right now using a force that we are demanding more of than we ever have before,” Morrell said. “They are under enormous stress and strain, and the secretary does not want to compound that stress by taking away one of the few outlets they may have to relieve that stress.” 

The secretary shares the concerns of those who prepared the report about the health and well-being of the force and understands the administration’s goal of a smoke-free America, Morrell said. 

“Obviously, it is not our preference to have a force that is using tobacco products,” he said. 

Morrell noted the enormous cost to the department in terms of health care. “By some estimates, it costs us nearly a billion dollars a year in tobacco-related health problems,” he said.

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