Military's tobacco discount: Up in smoke

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The familiar image of a battle-hardened member of the military smoking a cigarette may become a little less common.

The Senate Appropriations defense subcommittee on Tuesday approved a $549.3 billion defense spending bill that would eliminate the 25 percent discount that members of the armed services enjoy when buying tobacco products at commissaries and elsewhere, including cigarettes and chewing tobacco.

Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., chairman of the subcommittee, said studies show that tobacco use is higher in the military. He said that translates into more illnesses and health care costs of $1.6 billion a year.

"There is no reason these deadly products are subsidized," Durbin said.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, said she was surprised that the subsidy was so high.

The defense bill for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1 would do away with the discount.

The move is controversial and certain to generate disagreements in Congress.

The House version of the defense policy bill would thwart any Navy efforts to restrict access to tobacco. In May, Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., described smoking as one of the few pleasures for a member of the military, and he easily convinced his colleagues on the House Armed Services Committee to back his measure.

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