The U.S. Air Force, faced with a goal of dramatically reducing tobacco use by 2010, is getting set to implement its first widespread ban on such products.

©Kent Harris / S&S
"Ciggy" shows his disdain for the plan.

The Air Force Material Command will soon start a three-phase program that will eventually eliminate the use of tobacco products at its bases, according to Lt. Col. Sherry Sasser, chief of health promotions for the Air Force Surgeon General's office.

Sasser said Thursday in a telephone interview that the move - which doesn't have a specific start date yet - was approved last week at a Community Action Information Board meeting. The quarterly meetings are held by the services to discuss issues and implement changes.

"It boils down to dollars. It boils down to resources," said Sasser, citing statistics that the Air Force loses more than $80 million annually in productivity because of airmen who use tobacco products. "There is not one positive health benefit from using tobacco. Not one."

The plan by the AFMC has been months in the making, she said. The 31st Medical Group at Aviano Air Base implemented a ban on its airmen smoking in uniform in March, and other bases have banned smoking in on-base dorms. But such moves have never been tried by a major command. AFMC, headquartered at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, includes 10 bases in the States. Among them are Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., Kirtland Air Force Base, N.M., Robins Air Force Base, Ga., and Hill Air Force Base in Utah.

The first phase of the AFMC program, Sasser said, is banning tobacco use by personnel in uniform. Bans in dorms and government housing would follow, with the final phase being the elimination of such products on base.

The plan drew decidedly mixed reactions at Aviano on Friday.

"That sucks," said Staff Sgt. Joe Barnes with the 31st Communications Squadron. "I smoke during the duty day. Smoking is the only chance I get to go outside and take a break."

"I think it's great," said Tech. Sgt. William Dellick of the 31st Maintenance Operations Squadron. "It's a bad image."

"I don't think it's right," said Tech. Sgt. Kent Klotz from the 31st Logistics Operations Squadron. "It's not an illegal substance, so people should be allowed to use it. I don't think people should be allowed to smoke in government buildings, but this is different."

"It's good," said Senior Airman Matt Marquardt, also from the 31st LRS. "I don't smoke. I think it's stupid. It impairs the mission when people take 50 smoke breaks a day. It should have been done 10 years ago."

Sasser estimated about 27 percent of airmen use tobacco products. The service's goal is to reduce that number to 12 percent within three years.

"Ultimately, we would like to be smoke-free," she said.