UK Provides Free Cigarettes to Ukrainian Soldiers Despite Health Risks

The UK MoD provided free duty-free cigarettes to Ukrainian soldiers training in the UK, despite health risks, to boost morale. This arrangement highlights the challenges of balancing public health and wartime needs.

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Ayesha Mumtaz
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UK Provides Free Cigarettes to Ukrainian Soldiers Despite Health Risks

UK Provides Free Cigarettes to Ukrainian Soldiers Despite Health Risks

The UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) arranged a deal to provide free duty-free cigarettes as part of the rations for Ukrainian soldiers being trained in the UK, despite the well-known health risks associated with smoking.

The agreement was reached in 2022 after complaints from Ukrainian troops that cigarettes were too expensive and in short supply at their training bases, which was impacting their morale and ability to concentrate on the training.

The deal was facilitated by then-Defence Secretary Ben Wallace and his Ukrainian counterpart, Oleksii Reznikov. An international tobacco firm donated the cigarettes, which were distributed to the soldiers as part of their rations.

The MoD also offered healthier alternatives like vapes and nicotine pouches, as well as advice on the risks of smoking. However, the duty-free cigarettes were "greatly valued" by the Ukrainian troops, according to MoD sources.

The arrangement mirrored the practice during World War II when UK soldiers received cigarettes as part of their rations. The MoD received assurances from the Treasury and legal advice from the Department of Health and Social Care, which did not seek to block the deal despite its public health responsibilities and the UK's ongoing anti-smoking campaigns. The MoD stressed that no public money was spent on the cigarettes.

Why this matters: The provision of free cigarettes to Ukrainian soldiers by the UK government raises questions about prioritizing short-term morale over long-term health consequences. It also highlights the challenges of balancing public health initiatives with the realities of wartime conditions and cultural differences in attitudes towards smoking.

The revelation of this arrangement comes just days after UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak's plan to ban the sale of tobacco products to anyone born from 2009 onwards cleared its first parliamentary hurdle.

The majority of Conservative MPs failed to back the bill, which aims to create a "smoke-free generation" in the UK. The MoD's deal with Ukraine underscores the complex considerations involved in managing the well-being and performance of soldiers during times of conflict, even as the UK government works to reduce smoking rates among its own population.

Key Takeaways

  • UK MoD provided free duty-free cigarettes to Ukrainian soldiers in UK training.
  • Deal facilitated by UK Defence Secretary and Ukrainian counterpart to boost morale.
  • MoD offered healthier alternatives but soldiers "greatly valued" the free cigarettes.
  • Arrangement mirrored WWII practice, despite UK's anti-smoking campaigns.
  • Reveals tensions between wartime needs and public health priorities in UK.