The times, they are a’ changing for submariners. Women will be integrating onto subs by 2011, but a possibly more disruptive change will go into effect no later than Dec. 31 of this year. The ash trays will disappear from all the Groton-based boats as a total ban on smoking on submarines goes into effect.
No Smoking Signs to Come to Groton-Based Subs
The Navy’s reason for the ban is a valid one.
“Recent testing has proven that, despite our atmosphere purification technology, there are unacceptable levels of secondhand smoke in the atmosphere of a submerged submarine. The only way to eliminate risk to our non-smoking sailors is to stop smoking aboard our submarines,” said Vice Admiral John J. Donnelly, Commander, Submarine Forces. The basis of these unacceptable levels is a 2006 Surgeon General’s report that says there is no level of exposure to second-hand smoke that is risk-free.
However, the thoughts from the deck plate level are mixed.
“Smoking is a way of life on a submarine,” said Petty Officer 1st Class Bill Daniels. “I think this’ll cause a lot more problems than they actually foresee.”
Smoking is much more prevalent onboard submarines than it is among the general populace. According to the American Cancer Society, 21 percent of people (about 46 million people) smoked cigarettes in 2008, compared to the 35 to 40 percent of submariners that smoke, Lt. Commander Mark Jones, spokesman for COMSUBFOR, told CNN.com.
Stress is one of the most significant reasons why twice as many submariners smoke as compared to the average. There are few environments quite as stressful as a warship at sea; sink the ship and take away the sun and that stress level is compounded exponentially, and many choose to relieve that stress through smoking.
“An environment as stressful as that, people should be allowed to have that indulgence,” said Brian Murphy, a veteran of the USS San Juan, an attack sub based out of Groton.
With the change in policy, there will also be a program of nicotine replacement therapy, including nicotine patches and gum, though drugs like Zyban and Chantix will not be authorized.
“What we want to discourage is smokers turning to alternative methods of tobacco use such as chewing tobacco,” said Captain Mark Michaud, Submarine Force Atlantic surgeon.
There are some problems that may be looming on the horizon with this issue.
One problem is withdrawal symptoms: they include irritability, nervousness, headaches and trouble sleeping, all things that will turn an already stressful environment into a nearly overwhelming one. Another possible problem is retention/ People might not wish to stay in the Navy if they are barred from doing something that is in many cases perfectly legal.
A third is simply social interaction. Enlisted life aboard a ship is often unfortunately broken up into two separate cultures, depending upon which section of the boat you work on, fore or aft, and oftentimes the most significant interaction between the two sections come from mingling together at the one spot in the bowels of the ship designated for smoking. With smoking banned, the environment on the boat could become much more insular.
Beren Jones is an intern for NBC Connecticut. He served out of Groton as a nuclear-trained electrician for six years aboard the Submarine NR-1 and the USS San Juan.