SAN DIEGO (NNS) - With the upcoming arrival of 2011, San Diego area Sailors were prepared Dec. 30 for the implementation of a new Navy-wide smoking policy that bans smoking below decks aboard all U.S. Navy submarines.

The smoking ban, announced by Vice Adm. John J. Donnelly, Commander, Submarine Forces via Naval message April 8, will become effective no later than December 31, 2010.

Exposure to second hand smoke, and the health risks to non-smokers has been cited as the impetus behind the change of policy.

In San Diego, a large-scale smoking cessation program is being offered to assist submarine Sailors in their efforts to quit smoking. The program incorporates education techniques and nicotine replacement therapy, such as nicotine patches and nicotine gum.

Sailors serving aboard submarines stationed at Naval Base Point Loma, Calif., are preparing for the smoking ban by taking advantage of the programs.

"Although we have isolated smoking areas aboard ship there is no way to escape the smoke and if a person who doesn't smoke is around then they are left exposed to second hand smoke," said Fire Control Technician 1st Class (SS) Nick Church, a Sailor assigned to USS Asheville (SSN 758).

The submarine force chartered the Naval Submarine Medical Research Laboratory to conduct a study on U.S. submarines. The study indicated that non-smoking Sailors were exposed to measurable amounts of second hand smoke. The year-long study was conducted in 2009 on nine different submarines, including at least one from each class of submarine in the force.

"The smoking ban limits second hand smoke and is helping to make the Navy healthier," said Electronics Technician 1st Class (SS), Orlando Apodaca, an Asheville Sailor.

According to the Surgeon General's 2006 report on smoking, non-smokers who are exposed to second hand smoke on a regular basis increase their risk of developing heart and lung disease.