As an Army veteran with two tours in Vietnam and still a smoker, I want to make certain that I've got this right. The Philip J. Morris and R. J. Reynolds tobacco companies donated 10,000 cartons of cigarettes to the troops in Saudi Arabia facing hostile Iraqi forces in Kuwait. The four or five pallets of cigarettes are flown by Air Force planes and distributed to and consumed by troopers of the 82d Airborne Division.

Here in the states, various antismoking and anti-tobacco groups, in chorus, start protesting that the tobacco companies are enticing and corrupting nonsmoking military personnel, thus endangering their health and promoting further consumption of tobacco. This culminates in a Molly Moore article {"Cigarette Gift Has Some at Pentagon Fuming," Federal Page, Oct. 5} stating that an assistant secretary of defense for health affairs is upset because our troops are exposed to great risk of disease and death that free cigarettes would cause. Further, he implies that smokers are less prepared and ready to participate in combat in defense of the nation.

I could just picture myself helping a released and crippled prisoner of war on his stretcher. When asked if he wants anything, he replies that it has been a long time since he has had a cigarette. Am I really supposed to deny his request on grounds that it might have an adverse impact on his health?

What next? Regulations requiring the posting of "No Smoking" signs inside tank turrets or signs posted outside a Bradley fighting vehicle or defense perimeter indicating that the interior has been designated a "Smoke Free Zone."

And, yes, there is the matter of readiness for combat. Only a couple of policy decisions by the Department of Defense would be required to resolve this problem.

First, declare all military persons who consume tobacco products as nondeployable to the Middle East. Second, direct the immediate discharge and retirement of all military personnel who smoke or consume tobacco in any form. (Their service to the nation is detrimental to their health and the health of others.) Third, declare that henceforth no user of tobacco will be enlisted, commissioned or conscripted and that all members of the armed forces in the future will be nicotine-free in peace and war. But then again with such rules one wonders: Would we have an army?


The article "Cigarette Gift Has Some at Pentagon Fuming" clearly shows how desperately out of touch some of our Department of Defense and top Pentagon officials are with the daily concerns and needs of our troops serving in Saudi Arabia. Our men and women there are facing hazards more immediate and more menacing than the relatively minor health hazards those free cigarettes represent. Those cigarettes could be the last ones some of our men and women in the Gulf region get a chance to smoke.

As a former Marine Corps officer with 13 years of experience with troops, I can tell you that a significant number of our troops smoke (and drink), and I am sure a significant number of them welcomed the very generous gift that the Philip J. Morris and R. J. Reynolds companies made. I applaud the well-meaning efforts of these two companies to relieve some of the hardships of our troops.

The self-righteous anti-smoking tirade Assistant Secretary of Defense Enrique Mendez Jr. delivered from his position of relative comfort ignores the reality of the deprivations our troops must endure daily while stationed in the field. And there is no proof that smoking undermines combat readiness. Now, is there a public-spirited brewery around that would like to spot our troops a beer ration or two?