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CIGARETTE PRICES GO UP ON MILITARY BASES

Published: Saturday, Nov. 2 1996 12:00 a.m. MST

      The price of cigarettes sold at supermarkets on military bases is rising by $4 per carton as the Pentagon tries to discourage soldiers from smoking.

      "I think it will work, too," smoker Eva Hamilton said Thursday as she stocked up on cigarettes at the commissary at this air base in Washington D.C. "I won't be able to smoke as much - can't afford it."The cartons of brand-name cigarettes, rising almost 35 percent from the current $11.50 to about $15.50, will still be cheaper than the $17.50 cartons common at private grocery stores.

      The Defense Department is imposing the increase despite opposition from a congressional panel, which contends the Pentagon does not have the power to make such a change without its approval.

      Base exchanges - military-run department stores - will have the same higher cigarette prices even though they are separate from the commissaries, which sell only food, tobacco products and magazines. Base exchange prices generally are similar to those of private stores except that there is no tax.

      Both systems, financed largely by the federal government, are part of the compensation package for millions of military personnel and their families.

      But tobacco products are the only items deemed health hazards by the surgeon general that are sold at reduced commissary prices, said Pentagon spokeswoman Deborah Bosick.

      "In a roundabout way, we're asking taxpayers to subsidize tobacco products and pay for the health problems that occur from smoking or other kinds of tobacco use," Bosick said in an interview. "It's kind of hitting the public with a double whammy."

      She acknowledged that the $4 per carton increase - which works out to 40 cents per pack - may not prompt many smokers to quit. However, she said, the Pentagon does not want to abet the smoking habit with the extra incentive of cheap cigarettes.

      This marks a change in policy for the Pentagon. For about a century ending in the early 1970s, the military included a "tobacco ration" in package meals soldiers received in the field, commissary historian Pete Skirbunt said. Now such soldiers can buy cigarettes at temporary markets the military sets up.

      The Defense Department pursued the price increase even after members of the powerful House National Security Committee requested a delay so it could be reviewed by a subcommittee on military morale, welfare and recreation.

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