Military tattoos are back, tobacco is out

Military Tattoos
A Soldier displays his tattoos March 31, 2014, the day new regulations on tattoos and other appearance standards went into effect. This Soldier's tattoos no longer conform to the new regulations. However, he could be grandfathered in under the older uniform regulations. The number, size and placement of tattoos have been dialed back under revised Army Regulation 670-1, which governs the Army's grooming standards and proper wear of the uniform. Photo Credit: SSG Xaime Hernandez

Over the past several years, the military has reconsidered the Armed Forces tattoo policy.  While it may differ slightly between branches, the consensus had been the same – the military was coming down on the ink.

Now military leaders are taking another look at the controversial tattoo policies.  According to 13WMAZ, Gen. Joseph Dunford paid a visit to Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni on a brief tour of Marine Corps bases in the Asia-Pacific region. During a town hall-style question-and-answer session, he told troops that Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps Ronald Green and other senior enlisted leaders would look at the Corps’ current tattoo policy and decide if any changes were needed.

“We absolutely have to do the things that are right to make us combat-effective and combat-ready, whatever that is,” Green said. “We’re going to make that decision and give that advice to the commandant based on his intent and how he leads the Marine Corps.”

In his comments Tuesday, Dunford did not say what elements of the tattoo policy might be reviewed or when a decision might be made regarding an update to the policy.

Last November, a new project was launched that allowed veterans to share the stories behind their tattoos. The Washington Post reported that it showed veterans discussing tattoos and the circumstances under which they got them, which ranged from the celebration of a coveted assignment to the mourning of a fallen friend.

Green indicated that the new look at the rules was prompted by the questions leaders had fielded from rank-and-file Marines.

“We heard you,” Green said, according to a news release from the town hall event. “We are going to look at what is best for the Marine Corps and what will keep us combat ready and combat effective. We will make that decision and give that advice to the commandant.”

Dunford told Marine Corps Times in February that he hadn’t looked at changing the tattoo policy, but was open to hearing what Marines had to say about it.

The policies banned sleeve tattoos and prohibited Marines from getting permanent ink on hands, feet, wrists or the inside of their mouths. The policies also limited how many tattoos could be seen while a soldier was in uniform.

Army officials said this week that the plan has been revised to allow soldiers to have tattoos on their arms and legs as long as they aren’t visible in the long-sleeve camouflage service uniform. Sgt. Maj. Dan Dailey, the top enlisted soldier in the Army, said it was an issue of morale.

“I don’t want this to be the deciding factor for a good soldier to get out,” he said.

While tattoos are making a comeback, the days of cheap cigarettes for military members is over.  According to the Military Times, the Armed Forces are raising tobacco prices and expanding tobacco-free areas on military bases.  According to a defense spokeswoman Laura Seal, these are just two ways the military is discouraging the use cigarettes, cigars and chew.

It’s unclear how high the prices might go in military stores. The option being considered is “matching the average price paid for tobacco,” said Seal.

A recent change in law requires that prices can’t be any lower than the lowest price in the surrounding civilian community for that product. But unlike the previous policy, the new law doesn’t set a ceiling on how high tobacco prices can go. That decision will be left to the Defense Department to determine.

The Air Force has already expanded the number places where tobacco use is prohibited. It is no longer permitted in recreation facilities, including its bowling alleys, beaches, parks, golf courses and basketball courts. Smoking in vehicles is no longer permitted on Air Force medical campuses, or when there’s a child in the car under age 14. The instruction also prohibits tobacco use while in uniform for students in technical training, accession and graduate medical education programs.

“In the Air Force, we’re committed to promoting tobacco-free living throughout. We’re not waiting for direction from DoD. We’ll continue to push forward,” said Air Force Col. (Dr.) John Oh, chief of health promotion for the Air Force Medical Support Agency.

“We’re not doing anything in the Air Force that isn’t being done elsewhere,” he said. “We’re following many of the practices that have been shown to be effective. The tobacco policies are part of a broader strategy to improve the health and fitness of airmen, their families and retirees.”

In March 2014, the Navy was reportedly on track to eliminate tobacco sales on Navy and Marine Corps bases. But that was put on hold after defense officials ordered the comprehensive department wide review of policies.

AAFP reported that when it comes to the use of tobacco products by U.S. Armed Services personnel, the 2015 National Defense Authorization Act, which Congress passed as part of the $1.1 trillion omnibus government funding bill is a mixed bag. On the upside, it does eliminate the discount for tobacco and tobacco-related products sold at military exchanges.

But this positive step comes as a broader call to discontinue tobacco sales in U.S. military installations fell flat. Specifically, language included in the NDAA prohibits “any new policy that would ban the sale of any legal consumer tobacco product category within the defense retail systems or on any Department of Defense vessel at sea.”

“Smoking rates among servicemembers are 20 percent higher than the rest of America, and use of spit tobacco is more than 450 percent higher,” Sen. Richard Durbin said in a release.  “Discounting tobacco products lures even more servicemen and women into this unhealthy and deadly addiction. Ending this price subsidy is a commonsense reform that will protect the health of our nation’s troops.”

The research that found a 10 percent increase in cigarette prices reduced consumption by 3 percent to 5 percent among adults. “Yet, tobacco sold at military exchanges is subject to a 5 percent discount compared to prices in the local community, and because of lax enforcement and ill-defined community comparisons, discounts can be as high as 25 percent off or more,” the release said.

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