July 23, 2014, EAST CHINA SEA (NNS) – For centuries, smoke has drifted freely through passageways, clouding compartments and common areas of U.S. Navy ships abroad. It wasn’t until recent decades that change has brought smoke, and smokers, to more centralized locations called “smoke decks” or “smoke pits.”
In 2014, the Navy is introducing a new type of smoke deck, and the U.S. Navy’s forward-deployed aircraft carrier USS George Washington (CVN 73) has joined in on the change.
In July 2014, George Washington became one of the first aircraft carriers to have an electronic-cigarette, or “E-cigarette”-only smoke deck.
“An E-cigarette is a form of smokeless tobacco,” said Cmdr. Rodney Hagerman, George Washington’s senior medical officer. “There are no flames, no ashes, and no actual smoke. It’s an electronic device that has a heating element, which heats a nicotine-containing liquid that has different types of glycols and flavors. It heats the liquid up and then [the user] inhales a mist instead of smoke.”
The decision to open an E-cigarette smoke deck was not done on a whim. Prior to its opening, research was conducted to find out if there was a need and desire for such a thing.
“I took a survey of the crew and air wing, and found that we had more than five hundred Sailors who use E-cigarettes, so we wanted to put them in an environment where they wouldn’t be around cigarette smokers while they’re trying to break the habit,” said Brahmsteadt. “The health of the crew is important, so if this is a step to help them quit tobacco altogether, that’s what we want to do.”
This new smoke deck gives Sailors an outlet to escape from the ashes and smoke of traditional smoke pits, and allows them to more easily make a transition to the E-cigarette.
For Sailors like Aviation Maintenance Administrationman 3rd Class Zachary Dixon, using the E-cigarette has been a vital steppingstone in moving away from regular cigarettes.
“[E-cigarettes] have helped me quit smoking tobacco cigarettes,” said Dixon. “Whenever I have a craving, I can just use my device and I have no desire for a cigarette. I can even go out to the smoke deck and be around other smokers and not feel the need to smoke tobacco since I have my E-cigarette.”
Now that there’s a designated E-cigarette smoke deck, Sailors like Dixon can enjoy the benefits of having a smoke-free zone, while still maintaining the same sociable atmosphere.
“I think having an E-cigarette smoke pit is a great idea and I believe it is a step forward, not just for the George Washington, but for the U.S. Navy as a whole,” said Dixon. “People like myself now have the option to avoid being exposed to cigarette smoke, and still enjoy our E-cigarettes in a similar environment.”
This doesn’t mean that E-cigarette users are confined strictly to the E-cigarette smoke deck, they can still use their devices at regular smoke decks aboard the ship.
For many Sailors, this all raises a question: Why should E-cigarette users have to use a designated area at all, if there isn’t any smoke emitted from their devices?
“We’re just going off of what the American Heart Association and other civilian entities have come out to say,” said Brahmsteadt. [The E-cigarette] is still fairly new, so the FDA hasn’t come out and said ‘yes, this is 100-percent healthy for anybody to be around’. Until they do that, we’ll have the same smoke pit isolation. But at least they don’t have to share with cigarette smokers.”
George Washington’s standpoint on tobacco and nicotine usage is to neither promote nor immediately eliminate it, but rather to help Sailors to be as mission-ready, and maintain professional working environments and clean living spaces.
“We work with medical on various smoking cessation classes,” said Brahmsteadt. “Smoking is proven to be a health risk. The immediate plan for the future is not to cut out smoking or tobacco chewing altogether, but the E-cigarette is a step in that direction. Hopefully, Sailors are using it to get off of the nicotine kick. But the E-cigarette is nicotine too, it’s somewhat like ‘the patch’.”
With this shift from tobacco smoke to nicotine vapor, it is important for Sailors to keep in mind that this is not exactly like the nicotine patch or gum, it is different.
“The E-cigarette does have some carcinogens, like that of tobacco because of the nicotine,” said Hagerman. “The problem lies with the liquid. It can actually be an explosive danger, but aside from that, the amount of nicotine and other chemicals in the liquid are not currently regulated in the United States.”
Looking to the future, it seems likely that the rest of the aircraft carriers in the U.S. Navy will follow suit with this E-cigarette smoke deck adaptation.
“E-cigarettes have grown, and continue to grow, in popularity on the ship,” said Brahmsteadt. “I most definitely foresee an E-cigarette smoke pit on every carrier in the U.S. Navy in the future.”
George Washington and its embarked air wing, Carrier Air Wing 5, provide a combat-ready force that protects and defends the collective maritime interest of the U.S. and its allies and partners in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region.