Saturday, January 01, 2011

Smoking Lamp to Extinguish Dec. 31 on Navy Subs

Smoking Lamp to Extinguish Dec. 31 on Navy Subs

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Dec. 30, 2010 – The countdown to the new year is on, and with it, a ban on smoking below decks aboard Navy submarines.

Navy officials announced the new rule April 8, to take effect Navy-wide when the clock strikes midnight Dec. 31.

The ban was instituted to protect non-smokers from secondhand smoke that puts them at risk of developing heart and lung disease, Vice Adm. John J. Donnelly, commander of Submarine Forces in Norfolk, Va., explained in a news release.

"Our sailors are our most important asset to accomplishing our missions," Donnelly explained in announcing the new policy. "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."

The Navy has been preparing its submariner crews, about 40 percent that smokes, for the change. It offers smoking cessation programs and issues nicotine gum or patches to help sailors kick the habit. Navy officials have also taken steps to make lighting up less convenient, such as limiting smoking time and the number of sailors permitted into the boat's nonsmoking area or "smoke pit" at any one time.

During a media visit aboard the Ohio-class ballistic missile submarine USS Rhode Island in August, crew members agreed that implementing the smoking ban would be tough.

"This is a very high-stress job," Navy Master Chief Petty Officer Robert McCombs, head of the sub's engineering department, told reporters. "We push our crew very hard every day, 12 to 18 hours a day, and smoking is how they relax. Some people are saying they don't want to stay on subs because they can't smoke."

Some submarines extinguished their smoking lamps early, to correspond with deployment schedules or other significant events. USS Michigan, for example, instituted the smoking ban July 27 at 7:27 a.m. to correspond with its hull number, 727. The command's plan was for the sailors to quit while deployed, and then return home with a fresh start and plenty of support from their family and friends, Michigan's senior enlisted personnel explained.

Among them was Command Master Chief Victor Smith, the blue crew's command master chief.

"As a former smoker for more than 10 years, I understand the challenges of quitting smoking," Smith told Navy News Service. "It is extremely hard to stop when you are at sea. We want our sailors to be successful, so we decided to put the smoking lamp out during this mission cycle. The day we extinguished the smoking lamp onboard was a significant event in the lives of our sailors. I cannot think of a more appropriate day to start a new and healthier life than 727 day."

USS Georgia, home ported in Kings Bay, Ga., implemented the new smoking ban Aug.15, while it was under way.

"Not being able to smoke onboard after December 31st will be difficult for some," acknowledged Command Master Chief, Richard Rose, blue crew master chief, during a Navy News Service interview. "This change will be hard, but will be for the better in the long run. Promoting and building a healthier submarine force is the right thing to do for the sailors in the Navy today."