The article on smoking in October 2006 THE SUBMARINE REVIEW was timely and thorough. However this otherwise excellent article by CDR C. J. Jankosky, SUBPAC Medical Officer, begs for the answers to two questions. ( 1) Why hasn’t the Submarine Force taken more bold action? (2) What are the external pressures that caused abandonment of smoke-free initiatives? By answering the latter question one finds the answer to the former. The dirty little secret here is Congressional pressure. That then generates still another question: How long will Tobacco State Congressional delegations hold such sway over the Navy?
This is not a new issue. In my PCO class almost 30 years ago we were acutely aware of the health issues. Also there was general belief that a significant percentage of dirt in the ventilation system and throughout an isolated submarine came from tobacco products. I gave considerable thought to initiatives that might address the smoking issue when I took command. Luckily, I concluded that other priorities were wiser targets for a new skipper. As fate would have it the crew’s MWR committee was already on the issue because of complaints and discussion aboard. They brought forward a plan for the smoking lamp to be out in messing and habitation spaces. To this I added conditions of reduced ventilation and rig for black in control. A starting point!
Eight years later I took command of a submarine squadron and found most ships enforcing a policy of smoking limited to just a few low density spaces. When I took submarine group command another five years later the situation was the same. A difference was that the Force Commander was now openly discussing the problem with the Force. About that time we were aware that some submarines in the Pacific were trying smoke-free policies.
The stage was set for bold action. The story I recall was that a new commission CVN, USS THEODORE ROOSEVELT I believe, implemented a well thought out program to go smoke-free by first deployment. The program started one year in advance in the shipyard with liberal chance for smoke-cessation programs and transfers for the truly addicted. At a predetermined time the program went into effect, the ship then on station in the Balkans campaign. It wasn’t long before some crew members filtered back complaints to well placed congressional staffers. The result was not-so-subtle pressure by certain members of Congress at the very top of Navy to terminate the smoke-free experiment. The CO had to rescind his program. Other smoke-free programs met similar fates. This is possibly the infancy of the now well known congressional declaration: “I support the troops” (but not the commanders).
So progress has been pretty limited over the last 30 years. Where do we go from here? It would be quite interesting if CDR Jankosky’s fine article could be followed up by someone, not burdened by official position, who is knowledgeable about the constraints which have limited bolder Submarine Force action. That could provide The Rest of the Story.