Fighting the nanny state: House panel snuffs out tobacco ban for military bases – Washington Times

Bristling at what they saw as the nanny state run awry, the House Armed Services Committee voted overwhelmingly this week to ensure that American troops serving overseas still can buy tobacco from base exchanges.

In another win for the front-line troops, the committee voted to keep aloft the iconic A-10 “Warthog” — defying Pentagon brass and committee leaders who said the plane, which combat troops love for its ability to provide lifesaving close ground support, didn’t fit into their budget plans.

Both of those decisions were part of the annual defense policy bill, which cleared the House Armed Services Committee unanimously early Thursday after a daylong session in which lawmakers grappled with issues from combating sexual assault in the military to letting President Obama transfer detained terrorism suspects from Guantanamo Bay Naval Base to the U.S.

In a tight budget environment, lawmakers also had to make tough choices about what projects to fund and where to cut, and the A-10 was a key part of that decision-making.

The Air Force said cutting the A-10 fleet could save billions of dollars. But Rep. Ron Barber, Arizona Democrat, led the fight to preserve the aircraft, known as the Warthog, for at least another year, saying there is no other aircraft in the U.S. fleet that does what the A-10 does. He redirected funds from operations and maintenance for overseas war fighting to keep the plane aloft.

The Warthog, introduced in the 1970s, is heavily armored, flies at subsonic speeds and sports a 30 mm canon with a distinctive sound that has endeared it to American ground troops, who say its low-altitude capabilities allow the plane to distinguish friendly troops from enemies, and target fire precisely.

“In Afghanistan the troops told me, keep the A-10 flying,” Mr. Barber said.

His amendment won on a 41-20 bipartisan vote.

Also earning bipartisan approval was the move to keep tobacco available on military bases — again rejecting a Pentagon priority.

The Defense Department circulated a memo this year, obtained by the Military Times, that encouraged the services to halt tobacco sales on military bases. The Navy moved quickly to lay the groundwork for a ban on sales at overseas base exchanges and aboard ships.

“We demand that sailors and Marines be incredibly fit,” Navy Secretary Ray Mabus told the Military Times. “We know tobacco hurts that fitness. We know the cost of health care far exceeds any profits we could possibly make selling that.”

Rep. Duncan Hunter, a California Republican who served as a Marine officer in Afghanistan and Iraq, objected, saying that amounted to social engineering in the military.

“We sleep in the dirt for this country, we get shot at for this country, but we can’t have a cigarette if we want to for this country, because that’s unhealthy,” he said during this week’s committee debate.

“Well I’ll tell you what — if you want to make us all healthy, then let’s outlaw war, because war’s really dangerous. It was bad for my health and it’s bad for other people’s health,” Mr. Hunter said.

His amendment would prohibit the Defense Department from halting the sale of any product that was legally available as of the beginning of this year.

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