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Wednesday, April 7, 2010 as of 11:14 AM ET

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UPDATE: USPS OKs Tobacco Delivery to Troops

August 11, 2010 - 5:29 PM | by: Steve Centanni

UPDATE: Sen. Herb Kohl tells Fox the Postal Service has responded to his request today and will allow tobacco delivery to overseas troops to resume, effective August 27. USPS will instruct its staff that it is lawful for care packages containing cigarettes and smokeless tobacco to be sent to military APO and FPO addresses through its Priority Mail with delivery confirmation service.

Tobacco may be harmful to your health, but so is getting shot at by the Taliban. And some military families are now fighting a war of their own, pushing to change a Post Office regulation that makes it difficult for soldiers and sailors in war zones to get care package containing cigarettes, chewing tobacco and snuff.

“These guys are just saying ‘Come on, man, I just need some smokes,’ and nobody can do anything about it,” says Tracy Della Vecchia, founder and executive director of MarineParents.com. “Meantime, they’re getting shot at. And if that doesn’t jangle your nerves, I don’t know what will.”

Della Vecchia’s son left the Marine Corps in 2005 after serving three tours in Iraq. But 24 year old Marine Cpl. Dan Kearns of Taylorsville, California is still there, fighting in the fiercely contested Helmand Province of Southern Afghanistan.

“Tobacco products are bad, but it’s the principal of the matter,” wrote Kearns in a letter to his family. “There are very few things out here I can call my own and my chewing habit is one of them. It calms me down, helps with boredom, and keeps me awake and the ONLY reason I have not run out is because of all of you that send it to me.”

The service members and their families are protesting Postal Service implementation of the PACT Act, an acronym for “Prevent All Cigarette Trafficking.”

The bill, which was signed into law in March, generally prohibits the mailing of tobacco products through the U.S. Postal Service. It was designed with three goals in mind: to prevent cigarette shipments that avoid state taxes; to reduce the availability of cigarettes, chewing tobacco and snuff to minors; and, to combat illegal trafficking that sometimes lands tobacco profits in the hands of terrorist groups.

There is one exception written into the law: tobacco products mailed non-commercially between two adults is perfectly legal. But when the Postal Service drew up its regulations implementing the bill, it decided tobacco parcels could only be sent by Express Mail—a type of delivery unavailable to many service members in combat zones. Military personnel who serve on large bases overseas can simply buy their cigarettes at the PX, but those in remote outposts are out of luck. These fighters rely on care packages from home.

Senator Herb Kohl, D-Wis., wrote Postmaster General Jack Potter on August 5 urging him to change the Postal Service regulations. The current rule, Kohl argues, “Is expressly contrary to the text of the bill and the congressional intent that care packages to the military containing tobacco products be allowed.”

Kohl has introduced a bill to make it clear military personnel are exempted from PACT, and Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif, has introduced a similar measure in the House.

A spokesman for the Postal Service, Gerry McKiernan, was unable to say whether Postmaster General Potter has received Kohl’s letter.

But he did tell Fox News, “We’re just tracking the law…” by drawing up this regulation requiring tobacco shipments only by Express Mail.

McKiernan says “The law requires verification, and the only product we offer that can accomplish that is Express Mail.”

Meantime, military families are lobbying hard to get the regulations changed. “The Post Office mucked this up,” says Della Vecchia. “It’s just absurd.”

Cpl. Kearns’ father, Bill Kearns, an attorney in rural Vermont, sums it up this way: “My opinion: Should Dan chew? Probably not. Should he have people try to kill him with hidden bombs, rockets and AK 47s while hiding behind women and children every moment of every day. Absolutely not.”

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