Earlier this month we celebrated Veteran’s Day. It was a day to give thanks for the soldiers who put their lives on the line to protect the freedom that most of us take for granted. Time and again, these brave men and women have sacrificed so much for our safety, and now we can help them beat an opponent that’s taken the lives of too many veterans: tobacco addiction.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that veterans are more likely to use tobacco than the general population, especially when they suffer from depression or posttraumatic stress disorder, and another report finds that veterans are also less likely to have smoke-free rules in their homes.
I was married to a Vietnam War vet who passed away at the age of 58… he smoked heavily. He started smoking in the service. What was life like for a twenty year-old young man in the jungle in the middle of a bloody war? What was it like to see friends shot before their eyes? What was it like to not know if you would ever return home? I learned about these feelings from painful conversations over a 28 -year span of time. I felt the fear from the stories told over and over in the middle of the night when the children were sleeping and the nightmares invaded.
I felt it in my heart from wiping the tears from his eyes and cradling him in my arms as he spoke of the dying babies, the sobbing mothers, the dismembered friends.
The years have passed and so has he… I know he is in a place where the dreams cannot torment him. I gained respect for these young men ripped from their home without a clear reason for why they fought or who they could trust.
These young folks who fought in Vietnam, in World War II in Philippines, Normandy, Burma at sea, land and air, fought as they fight now in places far away: Afghanistan, Iraq…They are and were young and full of dreams and full of fear… fear that will not leave them after the last shot is fired at them or they shoot back… fear that will remain in their souls for years to come.
I thank them all for their courage and sacrifice… my heart breaks when I hear about the casualties … but more so for those for whom the war is and will be their constant companion tills their death…I cannot thank them enough for all they’ve done!
Tobacco becomes their stress relief but invades their bodies and shortens their lives. Thankfully, there are resources to help veterans break their tobacco addiction. They can find quitting assistance at www.ucanquit2.org or call the Wisconsin Tobacco Quit Line for free at 1-800-QUIT NOW. I encourage all veterans who use tobacco to take advantage of these free resources. You’ve helped so many through your service, now it’s time to help yourself.
Wisconsin Hispanic Latino Tobacco Prevention Network