Early in my military career, I learned to detest cigarettes -- especially cigarette butts. Too many formations were followed by policing the area for 'trash' -- mainly picking up other Soldiers' cigarette butts.Government studies now indicate what I knew nearly two decades ago; that smoking service members are typically litterbugs too.A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 2019 article at https://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/campaign/tips/resources/data/cigarette-smoking-in-united-states.html states that while cigarette smoking in the United States in 2018 was generally down, the onus of cigarette smoking fell squarely on American males ages 25-44.This same demographic is the primary contributor to the rank and file of America's military.In the article, titled, "Military Tobacco Policies: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly," the National Institutes of Health stated the U.S. military has had a "legacy of pro-tobacco culture" that uses nicotine products at a higher rate than civilian peers.In a related 2011 NIH article titled, "Cigarette Litter: Smokers' Attitudes and Behaviors," smoking males are the significant offenders, many of whom don't consider flicking their butts to be littering.A cigarette butt is a little thing that has added to a huge problem -- to the tune of 766,571 metric tons of cigarette butt trash per year, according to NIH reports. In fact, cigarette butts are the most littered item in the world and the most collected trash found at beach cleanups.That they are also found on our beaches indicates bigger problems, according to the research.Limited research reveals cigarette butts do not biodegrade under typical circumstances, and they don't just disappear from the places where people actually drop them. Instead, they drift through our drainage ways to our waterways and end up in our oceans where "the plastic filter breaks down and toxic chemicals [are] released from cigarette butts [to] persist in water and soil," states the NIH article.For its part, the U.S. military is trying to change this legacy and, in so doing, has set a model for others."The primary reason the Army is vested in freeing Soldiers from tobacco is overall readiness," said Daniel Bateman, a public health nurse at Ireland Army Health Clinic on Fort Knox. "Tobacco use can result in cancers, heart and lung disease, and stroke; and users are likely to take longer to heal when injured."The research backs up Bateman's claims.The NIH recently found that cigarette smoking contributes to low fitness in Army basic trainees and demonstrates that smokers experience a 20-30% higher risk of injury than nonsmokers.The article even posits that smoking keeps Soldiers on the sidelines longer despite an active exercise regimen: "Higher aerobic and muscular fitness was not protective against injury among smokers; however, it was protective against injury among nonsmokers."Even bystander Soldier health is affected.The article quotes the 2004 U.S. Surgeon General's report, reflecting that smoking negatively impacts "nearly every organ of the body" and states that nonsmokers in contact with smokers are "subject to similar health problems when exposed to secondhand smoke."In response, the military has substantially reduced tobacco use through policy initiatives, a comprehensive ban on tobacco use during basic military training, and prohibiting smoking in all Department of Defense workplaces worldwide, according to the NIH article."Smoking harms the health of Soldiers and their family members," said Kelley Frans, lead health educator at the Fort Knox Army Wellness Center. "It is a contributing factor to Soldiers' failed fitness evaluations, and costs the Army a lot of money in health care and lost productivity each year."She said quitting the habit is the single best thing smokers can do for themselves."Smoking is the leading cause of preventable deaths in the United States," Frans said. "Quitting is the most important behavior one can do to improve the longevity and quality of life."All is not lost, as Frans concludes that the benefits of quitting tobacco begin immediately.So it turns out that a huge concern to Soldiers' health is an equally huge concern to the health of our ecosystem.Do us all a favor and flick the habit.Call the Army Wellness Center at 502-626-0408 or Preventative Medicine at 502-624-6236.