Military personnel and veterans are disadvantaged by inadequate tobacco control policies. We conducted a case study of a Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) effort to disallow smoking and tobacco sales in VA facilities.
Despite strong VA support, the tobacco industry created a public relations-focused grassroots veterans’ opposition group, eventually pushing the US Congress to pass a law requiring smoking areas in every VA health facility. Arguing that it would be unpatriotic to deny veterans this “freedom” they had ostensibly fought for and that banning smoking could even harm veterans’ health, industry consultants exploited veterans’ organizations to protect tobacco industry profits.
Civilian public health advocates should collaborate with veterans to expose the industry’s manipulation, reframe the debate, and repeal the law.