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Mediatory myths in the U.S. military: tobacco use as "stress relief".



To examine perceptions of military personnel about tobacco use.


Secondary analysis of (1) focus group and (2) interview data.


U.S. military.


Total participants (n = 241): Enlisted personnel, supervisors (n = 189 individuals participating in 23 focus groups), tobacco control managers, and policy leaders (n = 52 interview participants).


Not applicable.


Not applicable.


Inductive, iterative coding for salient themes using an interpretive approach. Application of the concept of mediatory myths, used by institutions to cover over internal contradictions.


All types of participants endorsed the idea that tobacco was needed in the military for stress relief. Types of stress identified included fitting in, (relationships with coworkers and superiors) and control of workflow (taking breaks). Participants also discussed beliefs about the impact of tobacco on the military mission, and institutional sanction of tobacco use.


Despite tobacco's well-documented negative effects on fitness, the myth that tobacco relieves stress serves several institutional functions in the military. It serves to minimize perceptions of stress on the fitness of personnel, suggests that stress can be managed solely by individuals, and institutionalizes tobacco use. Growing recognition among military leadership that countering stress is essential to fitness offers an opportunity to challenge this myth.

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