Veterans get help to quit smoking

State renews campaign with a free program

By John M. Guilfoil
Globe Staff / March 8, 2011

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The state has launched its second campaign in three years to try to curb smoking among veterans.

“We value the brave men and women who have proudly served our country and we want to provide them with the opportunity to live long, healthy lives,’’ Lieutenant Governor Tim Murray, chairman of the Governor’s Advisory Council on Veterans’ Services, said yesterday in a statement.

Smoking is a major problem among veterans even as it is generally on the decline across the state. Overall, 23.5 percent of veterans smoke, according to Governor Deval Patrick’s office. But only 16.1 percent of all adults in Massachusetts smoke, which is below the national average of 18.4 percent, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

A recent study from the Institute of Medicine showed that 32 percent of active-duty military personnel smoke, and that the prevalence of smoking may be over 50 percent higher in military personnel returning from Iraq and Afghanistan than for those who were not deployed there.

“It’s a very serious problem, and we think it’s not only a public health issue but a veterans’ services issue, as well,’’ said Coleman Nee, secretary of the Department of Veterans’ Services, in a phone interview yesterday. “Soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines put themselves in very dangerous situations, and it’s a real shame for them to make it back here and put themselves into a bad situation because of an addition to cigarettes.’’

Nee said that in the past, servicemen and women received cigarettes and chewing tobacco in the field in care packages. Nee said he received such packages when he served in Operation Desert Storm in the 1990s.

He said, however, that this practice has stopped in recent years.

According to state health officials, smoking is the number one cause of preventable death and disease in the state, costing more than $4.3 billion in health care costs every year.

Nee also highlighted the cost of tobacco use.

“Smoking is also a very expensive habit,’’ he said. “They’re not making a tremendous amount of money. This is money these folks could be saving or utilizing for much better purposes.’’

In 2008, the Department of Veterans’ Services and Department of Public Health launched its first smoking cessation program for veterans.

Nearly 4,000 veterans and family members called the hotline to obtain free support and nicotine patches over the seven-month program.

“This smoking-cessation program for veterans is a demonstration of our state’s commitment to helping serve those who have served us,’’ said state Representative James E. Vallee, House chairman of the Joint Committee on Veterans and Federal Affairs.

“Quitting smoking is a significant step toward a healthy, productive lifestyle, and I encourage our veterans to take advantage of this opportunity to make that positive change in their lives.’’

Massachusetts veterans and anyone in their family can call the Massachusetts Smokers Helpline at 800-QUIT-NOW (784-8669) or go to to receive telephone support and a two-week supply of nicotine patches to help them kick the habit at no cost to them.

Martin Finucane of the Globe staff contributed to this report. John M. Guilfoil can be reached at