I'm not a smoker, but when I was in the Marines .. it was something to do. This was back in the mid to late 60's ... long before anyone was concerned about the dangers of smoking ... first hand or second hand.

Of course, now, we know that smoking is hazardous to health; that information is important and can save lives.

So ... what do you think of telling our troops in combat zones ... Iraq, Afghanistan and other places of peril ... you can't smoke?

You might think I'm just making up a question ... but my inquiry is based on a fact.

Recently, the Pentagon and Veterans Affairs Department commissioned a Defense Department study which recommended that the military move toward becoming tobacco-free .. in about 20 years.

Immediately, troops feared that cigarettes would be banned in war zones.

A press secretary made a point to stress that Defense Secretary Robert Gates is not planning to prohibit the use of cigarettes, chewing tobacco or other tobacco products in combat. The secretary is quoted as saying: He (Defense Secretary Gates) knows that the situation they (our troops) are confronting is stressful enough as it is. I don't think he (Defense Secretary Gates) is interested in adding to the stress levels by taking away one of the few outlets they may have to relieve stress."

For years, the military and VA have been trying to reduce smoking among soldiers and vets.

The recent study found that tobacco use declined overall from 1980 to 2005, but noted: there has recently been an increase ... possibly because of increased tobacco use by deployed troops.

The report does recommend that the military start making incremental moves to become smoke-free. Such steps would include banning smoking at military academies, among recruits and eliminate use of tobacco on military bases and other facilities. Another step .. stop selling tobacco products at commissaries.

The Executive Director of Military Families United said: Our troops make enough sacrifices to serve our nation. They give up many of the freedoms civilians enjoy already without being told they cannot partake in yet another otherwise legal activity.

So, we have the Defense Department trying to reduce health issues by getting rid of tobacco products; you have troops and supporters saying ... no.

Where does this go next?

That might depend on you ... and other citizen response.

Supposedly, the Pentagon will not bar our troops in combat zones from smoking ... not yet .... but who's to say that in the future .. that might change and someday we will see signs reading: NO SMOKING / TOBACCO CAN KILL YOU.

Now, how does that compare to ducking bullets and avoiding IEDs and other weapons of war?

Personally, while I agree that smoking is not good for you ... to even "consider" making this an issue with our troops in danger zones is one of the more ridiculous examples of misguided government policies.

I'm sure you have your opinion so I look forward to reading your response, but for me, I say: Smoke'em .. if you got'em.

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