Soldiers who smoke have increased injury risk, reduced muscle endurance

| January 13, 2012 | 0 Comments

Chanel S. Weaver
U.S. Army Public Health Command

ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. — Nearly one-third of active duty service members smoke, and that figure increases among troops in a combat zone, according to the 2008 Department of Defense Survey of Health-Related Behaviors.

Smoking cigarettes can eventually cause lung cancer and emphysema, but it doesn’t always take 20 or 30 years to experience the adverse effects of smoking.

U.S. Army Public Health Command studies show that smoking has immediate health effects, such as increased injury risk and diminished physical performance.

“Past studies of Army basic trainees show the risk of injuries among Soldiers who smoke was as much as 90 percent higher than nonsmokers,” said Michelle Chervak, senior epidemiologist, USAPHC.

“We can definitely say that smokers have a greater risk of any injury, and more specifically, overuse injuries (or) damage to musculoskeletal tissue that accumulates with repetitive activities such as running,” she added. “Higher injury risk is likely due to factors that impair the body’s healing and repair processes.”

USAPHC studies have also demonstrated that smoking negatively impacts muscle endurance, especially as Soldiers get older.

“Our data shows that smokers perform fewer push-ups and sit-ups on the Army Physical Fitness Test,” Chervak said.

Smoking can also affect mission readiness.

USAPHC studies have also shown that Soldiers who use tobacco have reduced night vision and mental sharpness, and increased risk of heat and cold injuries. Nicotine decreases oxygenated blood flow, resulting in a 30-percent reduction in night vision for normal eyes, and 50-percent reduction in those wearing corrective lenses. Likewise, smoking also causes reduced blood flow to the extremities, which leads to more heat and cold injuries as the body is unable to cool and warm them, especially fingers and toes.

President Barack Obama’s National Prevention Strategy report states that cigarette smoking causes approximately 443,000 U.S. deaths each year. These deaths occur as a result of lung cancer, chronic bronchitis, strokes, heart attacks, emphysema and other conditions.

The financial costs of smoking are also significant. A recent Army Times article stated that tobacco use costs the Pentagon $846 million a year in medical care and lost productivity. Not to mention the cost to the smoker, with cigarettes currently ranging from $5 to $12 a pack.

For those who wish to reduce smoking, there is good news. USAPHC studies show that the risk of a heart attack decreases 24 hours after stopping smoking, and after one tobacco-free year, the risk for heart disease is half that of smokers.

“Any reduction in tobacco use is considered a success,” said Col. Heidi Warrington, chief nurse executive, USAPHC. “Soldiers who are having trouble quitting should focus on reducing the amount of cigarettes they smoke, with an ultimate goal of achieving a tobacco-free lifestyle.”

For more information on smoking cessation, visit; Quit Tobacco—Make Everyone Proud,; American Lung Association,; and American Cancer Society,

Category: Army News Service, Community, Health

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