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USA: injuries in the smoking room when a nuclear sub crashes
  1. Nick Wilson,
  2. George Thomson
  1. Wellington Medical School, University of Otago, New Zealand;

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    In January this year a US nuclear powered attack submarine, the USS San Francisco, crashed into an undersea mountain that was not marked on the navigation chart being used. A total of 99 crew members were injured, particularly in the areas that were relatively open: the smoking room, the crew’s mess, and the engine rooms. The one crew member who sustained fatal injuries was smoking in the smoking room at the time.

    It is perhaps surprising to think that there is actually space in a submarine for a smoking room. Indeed, it seems somewhat alarming that smoking is permitted given that there must be some (albeit small) increased fire risk. Furthermore, there are concerns around the performance of nicotine dependent workers—given the data that smokers are at increased risk of workplace injuries. One survey has reported that 55% of submariners (from two UK nuclear submarines) felt that it would be justifiable to enforce a ban on smoking in submarines.

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    A cartoon from a US Navy publication of the 1950s, part of a series on safety issues featuring a character called “Scuttlebutt”.

    No-smoking policies have been trialled for US navy ships. Perhaps it is time for navies with submarines to catch up with other work settings when it comes to state-of-the-art tobacco control? Alternatively, submarine patrols could be suspended with the realisation that the Cold War has now been over for 15 years and that resources are needed to address health and social concerns.