A photo-illustration of a Sailor holding a lit cigarette by MC3 Chase Corbin.

Story by MC3 Chase Corbin

With sweat beading up on his grease-covered forehead and a cigarette hanging from his lips, a Sailor struggles to heave the line. This Hollywood image has been glamorized for years, but could soon be lost at sea.

Commander, Submarine Forces (COMSUBFOR) implemented a policy earlier this year which banned smoking below decks aboard U.S. submarines by Dec. 31.

According to a year-long study by Naval Submarine Medical Research Laboratory in 2009, all Sailors aboard submarines were exposed to considerable amounts of secondhand smoke.
The ban on cigarettes on submarines is arguably the boldest move in banning tobacco in naval history.

Along with food and water, cigarettes were included in emergency rations for decades, a testament to tobacco’s addictive stranglehold on Navy personnel. The Navy has progressively worked to deglamorize and discourage tobacco use. Today, you won’t find a pack of smokes in your emergency provisions.

“Smoking is literally burning time,” said Seaman Brad McMillion. “That time could be used to do something more productive.”

Though Navy officials have not hinted at a fleet-wide ban on tobacco use, the thought looms in the back of the minds of smokers and non-smokers alike.

“A ban here would make it a lot easier for me, since I don’t smoke,” said Aviation Boatswain’s Mate (Fuels) Airman Apprentice Donald Jackson. “It really messes with my lungs. I tend to start coughing a lot around smoke.”

Though some Sailors believe the benefits of a ban would outweigh the disadvantages, others believe it would have a negative effect on morale.

“Recent studies have shown that smokers comprise an average of 20 percent of Americans, including naval personnel,” said Operations Specialist 2nd
Class William Dodd. “Eliminating smoking on surface ships alienates that large portion of the crew, and could be severely detrimental to fleet readiness and crew morale.”

There would be many resources for tobacco users to utilize if a fleet-wide ban were to take place.

“We would provide the medication Zyban, which is supposed to decrease withdrawal symptoms and a nicotine patch,” said Hospital Corpsman 2nd Class Julia Elliott. “It’s a three-step program designed to bring an individual off a nicotine addiction.”

Despite all the help Sailors would receive, some believe there would still be a rough transition period.

“This place would be very cranky, grumpy and irritable,” said Elliott, “The ship might run out of food and candy because people will eat instead of smoke.”

“If they were to ban smoking, I wouldn’t want to work here. The ship would be crazy,” said Aviation Boatswain’s Mate (Handling) Airman Jordan Jackson.

Smokers aboard surface ships can still get their nicotine fix for now, but with the Navy’s new approach to smoking aboard subs their days could be numbered.