On-base tobacco prices set to rise next week
(Photo: III Marine Expeditionary Force, Lance Cpl. Heather Johnson)

By Lizann Lightfoot

Starting next week, military members will pay more for tobacco products on base– much more.

In the past, service members could purchase tobacco products at the base Commissary, Exchange, or mini-mart using discounted prices. They were not charged local tobacco taxes on the products. Now the DoD is making an effort to decrease tobacco use in the military.

The most effective way to do this is to hit service members where it hurts most: their wallets. The new legislation requires base locations to match tobacco prices off base, including all local taxes. In some places, this could mean an increased cost of 25-30 percent.

The legislation was signed a year ago and will apply to all military bases across the country as well as stores on Navy ships. Some locations will see price changes today. The new rates apply to all tobacco-related products, including cigarettes, smokeless tobacco, cigars, and hookah products. E-cigarrettes and vape pens also will also be affected by the price increase.

Tobacco use in the military has decreased, but not enough

Over the years, the military has tried different methods and rules to reduce tobacco use. Smoking is no longer allowed in government buildings. Second-hand smoke exposure is reduced because smokers must be more than 50 feet away from a public doorway. Smokeless tobacco is not permitted in military classrooms and in some office locations. The DoD is now considering legislation that will outlaw smoking at Veteran Affairs (VA) facilities around the country.

While tobacco use in the military has decreased since the 1980’s, when almost half of all service members used tobacco products, military tobacco usage rates are still higher than civilians. The Military Times reports that around 25 percent of service members smoke cigarettes, compared to only 20 percent of civilians. The difference is more dramatic with smokeless tobacco products, such as dip. Only 3 percent of civilians use smokeless tobacco, but 13 percent of service members do. The study also reveled that among military smokers, 38 percent took up the habit after they joined the military.

The DoD has a vested interest in reducing service member tobacco usage. Tobacco-related costs to the military–including health costs and loss of productivity–have been estimated around 1.9 billion annually. The office of the Secretary of Defense stated in February, “DoD is committed to advancing the health, productivity, and readiness of the Military, and is making efforts to prevent initiation of tobacco use, help those who want to quit, and decrease exposure to second-hand smoke. Because price is a significant factor in tobacco cessation decisions, DoD believes this policy will make a meaningful improvement in the health of our military.”

Tobacco products will still be tax-free… technically

The change has sparked some controversy on military bases, especially since military exchange products are typically sold tax-free. Since the new tobacco price rates will match local vendor prices, including taxes, some believe that the higher prices go against military exchange policies. However, the DoD states that the increased prices technically do not include sales tax. “Customers are not paying sales tax when they purchase tobacco products at a military exchange. The new policy requires that the final price charged for tobacco products match the prevailing price in the local community, including the effect of sales tax paid. The ‘sticker price’ of tobacco products in a military exchange should be similar to the final price of those same items at civilian retailers.” However you look at it, the cost of tobacco products will now be the same both on- and off-base. Vendor locations on military bases will not do price-matching or accept coupons for tobacco products.

What about American tobacco products sold on bases overseas?

At most overseas locations, the only way to purchase American tobacco products is on base. Off base tobacco brands in other countries are not comparable–and in some countries tobacco products are not permitted–so their prices will not be used as a benchmark. Instead, overseas locations will set prices within an average range that reflects CONUS retail prices. “Outside the United States, prices shall fall within the range of prevailing prices for that same product established in outlets of the defense retail systems inside the United States,” the military reports.

Now is the time to quit

Military bases have always offered smoking cessation options to service members. The DoD hopes that enrollment in those programs will increase as the cost of tobacco products rises. If you are ready to quit smoking or using tobacco products, then visit your base hospital or health center to learn more about smoking cessation classes. These classes are typically free to service members, and sometimes offer free samples of products such as a tobacco patch, Nicorrette gum, or smoking cessation pills.

Lizann Lightfoot is an associate editor at Military One Click and a Marine Corps spouse. She can be reached at