Pneumonia common among US soldiers due to smoking

By Jon Holloway
October 2, 2003

Pneumonia is sweeping the soldiers in the Mid East. With cigarettes going for 12 dollars a carton, it is no wonder this illness is spreading. The men and women fighting overseas are getting cigarettes for cheaper than the United States has seen in over 20 years.

“I can’t wait till I get home, where I don’t have to wear a gas mask wherever I go,” Rich Cruz Coast Guard and Cabrini alumni who is currently stationed out of Bahrain, said. “Many of us got very sick when we first got out here; mostly due to the severe climate changes. Working in 140 degree weather, sweating through your clothes only to enter a building where the air conditioning is running at about 75 to 85 degrees. Not only that, the dust and sand in the air irritates our lungs as well.”

Pneumonia is the leading sickness; over 100 soldiers have caught the virus, and over 15 soldiers have died. There is no proof where the diseases are coming from. However, officials are claiming that chemical, biological, or environmental toxins are not the immediate cause. Perhaps these conditions can be sped up if one is smoking in 140 degree weather and breathing sand into the lungs.

Col. Bob DeFraites, a top medical army officer, was interviewed by the Canadian Press on Sept. 9. In his interview he said, “It may be a combination of the desert deployment with heat and dust and everything else in conjunction with the smoking. It may be sensitizing the lungs for the pneumonia.”

“There have been a lot of new guys coming in from boot camp, or guys who have never smoked who picked it up. It makes you take a 10 minute smoke break from your work, and well what else goes well with alcohol.” Cruz, a non-smoker, said. “Now that I think about it, most of the guys who I know who smoke get sick much worse and for a lot longer.”

As for the other branches of military in the Mid East, smoking is very popular. In World War I cigarettes were distributed with the food rations. These days the US doesn’t supply the smokes for free, however they are sold cheaply at the US exchange. According to Times-dispatch writer, Rex Bowman, and Winston-Salem staff journalist David Rice in an April 12 posting, “Cigarettes have become a precious commodity among the Marines of the 1st Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, which is in Baghdad as part of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force.”

Cigarettes five months ago were selling for $10 a pack according to Rice and Bowman, efforts to bring soldiers cheaper cigarettes. Now they are 1/10 of that with $12 cartons. When asked who supplied the cigarettes, Cruz said, “Cigarettes are not supplied by the US government. However, all the major tobacco companies sell their smokes out here.”

Posted to the web by Ryan Norris

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