U.S. Submariners Cope With a Smoke-Free Life

On January 1, the U.S. Navy’s entire fleet of 71 submarines went smoke-free, because, hey, how could taxpayers NOT want a stressed-out guy in the midst of a nicotine fit to be the one with his finger on the nuclear button? Personally, I know I sleep better knowing that non-smoking mariners are now able to breathe deep the fresh air of freedom as they hear those glorious words, “The use of nuclear weapons has been authorized.”

Anyway, going smoke-free was a move that pissed off the Village Voice, a fact I guarantee you not a single U.S. Navy Admiral had a panic attacks about. But the smokers in the submarine fleet aren’t that stoked about it, either. Today’s article in The Canadian Press about the transition interviews a few sailors who have been forced to either go cold-turkey or start chewing tobacco or Nicorette. One corpsman (medical staff for many Navy deployments) was quoted as saying:

“The heavier smokers just seem to have time on their hands that they don’t know exactly what to do with,” he said. “They used to have smoke breaks or smoke after they finished their shifts. Now, they aren’t sure what to do with themselves during the time they used to spend smoking.”

…which left me thinking, “Holy crap, does that mean the Navy banned masturbation, too!?!?”

(In case you’re wondering, as far as I can tell there isn’t an official policy on this one. The scuttlebutt is that submarine crews just get used to indulging the solo arts in each others’ presence, like it or not. I have no idea if this is true. It could be a sneering insinuation hurled at deep-water sailors by surface sailors, who somewhat famously regard submariners as insane. Whatever…)

Anyway, back to smoking: The move was made because of concerns about second-hand smoke; crew members who didn’t smoke were testing positive for nicotine after being on board submarines. Clearly, there are some potential OSHA concerns here, and no doubt somebody wearing fruit salad saw a few potential lawsuits in the Pentagon’s future.

Prior to the mid-nineties, submarine crews smoked all over the place. I know this because of one of history’s most unassailable historical documents, Tony Scott’s 1995 nuclear-submarine thriller Crimson Tide, about which IMDB tells me the coffin nails huffed all over the sub represent an aspect of that flick that’s often incorrectly regarded as technically inaccuracy; smoking was allowed in various places on a sub when the fim was made.

However, not long after that the U.S. Navy transitioned to having a “smoke pit,” where only three crew members were allowed to smoke at once, so there would be long lines where the crew members traded gossip. That’s the tradition that went South as of January 1. Now, even if a crew member wants to inhale a butt while in harbor, he has to step onto the dock.

To hear The Canadian Press tell it, the sailors are reacting to the hardship with mingled moroseness and fatalism, using nicotine gum, chaw and other forms of self-torture to make it through the length of a tour without a nice relaxing smoke. Smoking is still allowed on surface ships, though many Navy personnel think that fact is not long for this world. An estimated one-third of submarine crew members were estimated to have been smokers before the ban.


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One comment on “U.S. Submariners Cope With a Smoke-Free Life
  1. I think with all the technology in the world that the navy could design a room with ventilation for smokers. These guys are so cooped up under water that maybe taking away there strees relief they are causing more harm. The sailors who are smokers would be more stressed out and on a short leash. How would the captain like it if they banned liquor from the Sub. Come on now give the smokers a break and let them have a room for themsevles even if they put a shower in there so they could shower before they come out. I am sure if a War broke out fully the cigs would be out in full. Give the smokers a break. They are training to look after your country and others and will risk their lives if need be.

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