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New rules set more specific smoke-free areas

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Smoke ’em if you got ’em, but don’t do it anywhere near an Air Force hospital or clinic. In fact, don’t bother lighting up in an installation parking lot, near a sidewalk or your kid’s favorite base playground either.

An updated Air Force Instruction on tobacco use in the service says those places are now off-limits to smokers, tobacco chewers, dippers and sniffers. And don’t think you’re safe smoking electronic — or e-cigarettes — or any kind of pipe or hookah.

All such devices also will be relegated to designated tobacco-use areas. And that area will be much farther away than it probably has been.

The new AFI, which went into effect March 26, designates all Air Force hospitals and clinics as tobacco-free environments, which means no smoking within 200 feet of a medical facility campus. That campus includes the facility’s parking structures and lots, lawns, and any other contiguous outdoor area.

The days of running outside to get your nicotine fix and lighting up before the door closes are gone, too.

Under the new AFI, not only can you not smoke on your way to the designated tobacco area, that area must be at least 50 feet from building entrances and exits, sidewalks and parking lots. These areas also must be at least 100 feet from playgrounds.

Lt. Col. John Oh, chief of health promotion for the Air Force Medical Services Agency, said the changes are all in the name of mission readiness and healthy living. He said it had been about a decade since the last policy update on tobacco use, and in that time there has been a lot of momentum toward cracking down on the use of tobacco and reducing the impact of secondhand smoke.

The ultimate goal is a tobacco-free Air Force, according to the AFI.

Tobacco consumption and the ailments associated with its use drain nearly $2 billion of the Defense Department’s $53 billion health care budget each year, Oh said.

For the military, that loss is not just monetary. It saps productivity too.

“Tobacco use is really a mission-readiness issue,” Oh said. “It’s associated with decreased productivity, increased absenteeism and decreased endurance.”

Nearly one-quarter of Air Force personnel smoke, he said. That’s higher than the national average of about 20 percent. And more than half of smokers in the Air Force are enlisted men between 18 and 29 years old, according to a an analysis in September by Hellenic Army Capt. Michail Gkoutouloudis, a student at the Air Force Institute of Technology.

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