Ignoring a wise Defense Department policy against giving cigarettes to soldiers, the RJR Nabisco and Philip Morris tobacco companies recently donated about 10,000 cartons for distribution to U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia. Air Force base officials say they were unaware of the ban when they loaded the cigarettes on military aircraft.

The episode has prompted a refreshingly blunt response from Enrique Mendez Jr., the assistant secretary of defense for health affairs."Our troops deployed on Operation Desert Shield deserve better than to be exposed to greater risk of disease and death," wrote Mendez upon learning of the policy violation. "Smoking undermines readiness on the battlefield and is one of the leading preventable causes of disease and death among military personnel."

Both cigarette makers own food subsidiaries. Instead of free cigarettes to express patriotism, why not regular free shipments of Oreo cookies or Kraft cheese?