Air force recruits need potent smoking cessation programs

May 24, 2002

A high proportion of Air Force recruits smoke cigarettes, with men and women, as well as members of different ethnic groups, exhibiting substantially different patterns of smoking and cessation, according to a large-scale study.

Of the more than 32,000 recruits who entered the Air Force between September 1995 and September 1996, reports lead author Kenneth D. Ward, Ph.D., of the University of Memphis Center for Community Health, 54 percent had smoked a cigarette at some point. Twenty-five percent were daily smokers upon arrival for basic training. Active smoking rates ranged from a low of 5.6 percent among black men to a high of 31.6 percent among white women.

The study appears in the May/June issue of the American Journal of Health Promotion.

Such findings, in Ward's estimation, "highlight the need to develop effective culturally sensitive cessation interventions for military recruits." The Air Force is a major provider of smoking counseling, requiring all recruits to participate in a smoking cessation or prevention program and insisting that recruits completely refrain from smoking during basic training.

In order to obtain some of the data needed to understand recruits' smoking patterns and plan appropriate programs, Ward and his colleagues developed a questionnaire given to each recruit after arrival for basic training. The answers provided information on the recruit's race, age, education, ethnicity and health behaviors, including tobacco use.

Once the results were analyzed and the effects of age, income and educational level were factored out, Ward observes, many of the findings echoed previous observations. "Smoking prevalence," the researchers note, "differs significantly according to ethnic background and gender in both the civilian and military populations, with rates alarmingly high in some groups."

White and Native American recruits, the researchers found, are the most likely to smoke upon entering basic training (29.9 percent and 24.4 percent, respectively). They are also the least likely to quit smoking on their own prior to entering the military, and the most nicotine-dependent of all recruits.

In contrast, only 8.3 percent of black recruits and 16.0 percent of Hispanic recruits are smoking when they begin training.

"Although among whites, women were more likely than men to be current daily smokers ... the opposite trend was observed" for black and Asian women and men, Ward notes. Smoking rates for men and women in all other ethnic groups were similar, with men slightly more likely than women are to smoke.

The team's findings on white female recruits, coupled with previous research, led Ward to conclude that "intervention efforts to reduce smoking are especially needed in this group." Sixty-two percent of the female recruits in the present study had smoked at some time and 32 percent were still smoking. These figures exceed national estimates for women of similar age and educational level. Moreover, previous studies have shown that white women who enter military service are more likely to start smoking, and less likely to quit, than their civilian counterparts.

Overall, the present study's findings provide a picture of smoking problems among Air Force recruits that is as bleak as, or bleaker than, previous research would suggest.

However, two observations are more promising than expected: Black men are as likely as white men, and black women are nearly twice as likely as white women, to have quit before entering the Air Force. According to Ward, "These results stand in contrast to previous studies ... which show that blacks are less successful than whites at quitting."
Funding for the research came from the National Heart, Blood and Lung Institute.


Interviews: Contact Kenneth D. Ward, Ph.D., (901) 678-1714,
American Journal of Health Promotion: (248) 682-0707 or

Posted by the Center for the Advancement of Health ( For more research news and information, go to our special section devoted to health and behavior in the "Peer-Reviewed Journals" area of Eurekalert!, For information about the Center, call Ira Allen,, (202) 387-2829. To request a copy of this or any other article we have distributed, please E-mail

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