Introduction: Given the high prevalence of smoking among Veterans and the economic, social, and clinical implications, it is important to understand the factors that contribute to smoking in order to focus efforts to mitigate these factors and improve smoking cessation efforts among Veterans. The availability of research on smoking in Veterans compared with civilians is limited given the military-specific differences in their life course. We aimed to identify military-specific factors combined with sociodemographic factors for ever smoking and current smoking among Veterans to inform future interventions.
Materials and methods: We used data from the 2010 National Survey of Veterans, the most current, to analyze the association of sociodemographic and military-specific factors with ever versus never smoking, and current versus past smoking using multiple variable logistic regression models (IRB#4125).
Results: Among 8,618 respondents, the proportions of current, past, and never smokers were 17%, 48%, and 34%, respectively. Sociodemographic factors associated with ever smoking were female gender, educational attainment of less than a bachelor's degree, and being divorced/separated/widowed. Military-specific factors associated with ever smoking were exposure to dead/dying/wounded soldiers during service, and past, current, and unsure enrollment in Veterans Affairs healthcare. Never smoking was associated with Hispanic ethnicity, income over $75,000, and reporting fair or poor health. Military factors associated with never smoking were presence of a service-connected disability and military service July 1964 or earlier (i.e., pre-Vietnam). Among 5,652 ever smokers, sociodemographic factors associated with current smoking were age less than 65, being non-Hispanic black, educational attainment of less than a bachelor's degree, being divorced/separated/widowed, never married, and having no insurance. Factors associated with reduced likelihood of current smoking compared with past smoking included income >$41,000 and reporting fair or poor health. Military-specific variables associated with reduced likelihood of current smoking were service era of May 1975 or later (i.e., post-Vietnam) and 5 or more years of service.
Conclusion: Military-specific variables are associated with smoking behaviors among Veterans. Findings from this study that exposure to dead/dying/wounded soldiers, service era, duration of service, service-connected disability status, and enrollment in VA care all influence smoking in Veterans, can inform prevention and cessation efforts in part by encouraging alternative healthy habits or cessation techniques in subgroups of Veterans with particular military backgrounds. By assessing risk factors in this unique population future research can leverage these findings to determine mechanisms that help explain these associations. Identifying factors associated with smoking offers insights for smoking cessation and prevention interventions given the military experiences and increased smoking incidence among Veterans.