Jun. 7 2012
WASHINGTON, DC — The Youth Risk Behavior Survey, released today by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), shows that the U.S. has cut high school smoking by more than half since rates peaked in 1997, with the smoking rate reaching a new low of 18.1 percent in 2011. The high school smoking rate (the percentage who smoked cigarettes in the past month) has fallen from a high of 36.4 percent in 1997 and from 19.5 percent in 2009, although the CDC indicated the decline from 2009 to 2011 does not reach statistically significant levels.
The dramatic decline in youth smoking is a remarkable public health success story, reversing a large increase from 1991 to 1997. It means a healthier future for millions of children and will reduce the deaths, disease and health care costs resulting from tobacco use, the nation's number one cause of preventable death.
It is also powerful evidence for elected officials that we know how to win the fight against tobacco by implementing scientifically proven strategies. These include higher tobacco taxes, well-funded tobacco prevention and cessation programs that include mass media campaigns, strong smoke-free laws, and effective regulation of tobacco products and marketing.
But today's survey also comes with a warning for elected officials that they cannot be complacent and take continued progress against tobacco for granted. Like other recent surveys, this survey shows that high school smoking declines have been more gradual in recent years, falling by 17 percent from 2003 to 2011 after dropping by 40 percent from 1997 to 2003. Smoking declined sharply when cigarette prices skyrocketed and funding increased for tobacco prevention programs immediately after the 1998 legal settlement between the states and the tobacco companies. But smoking declines have since slowed as tobacco companies countered cigarette tax increases with deep price discounts and states slashed funding for tobacco prevention programs in recent years.
To continue and accelerate progress, elected officials at all levels must step up implementation of the solutions that we know work.
The Obama Administration has provided much needed leadership to reinvigorate the fight against tobacco. The Administration's accomplishments include a 62-cent increase in the federal cigarette tax in 2009, increased support for tobacco prevention and cessation programs, and the landmark law granting the Food and Drug Administration authority over tobacco products, which imposed new restrictions on tobacco marketing and sales to kids. Today's survey, as well as the 2011 Monitoring the Future survey results that also showed declines in youth smoking, provide promising evidence that these actions are having an impact.
This year, the CDC launched the nation's first-ever, paid national media campaign to prevent kids from smoking and encourage smokers to quit. The campaign is having a significant impact, with calls to toll-free telephone quitlines more than doubling. The FDA must continue to effectively implement its new authority over tobacco products, and Congress must continue to fund the Prevention and Public Health Fund that supports disease prevention initiatives such as the CDC's media campaign.
Unfortunately, there has been less progress and more backsliding at the state level in recent years. The states must restore funding for tobacco prevention programs that have been slashed by 36 percent over the past four years. The states this year will collect $25.6 billion in revenue from the tobacco settlement and tobacco taxes, but will spend only 1.8 percent of it – $456.7 million – on programs to prevent kids from smoking and help smokers quit. States must also step up the enactment of tobacco tax increases and smoke-free laws as the pace of progress on both has slowed in recent years.
Today's survey is full of reminders that the battle against tobacco is far from over. It is unacceptable that more than 18 percent of high school students still smoke and 23.4 percent have used some form of tobacco in the past month. Among high school boys, 17.8 percent smoke cigars and 12.8 percent use smokeless tobacco, indicating the continuing popularity of products that the tobacco industry is marketing in kid-friendly sweet flavors and colorful packaging. The use of these products by children underscore why all tobacco products should be regulated by the FDA to protect kids and public health and why Congress should reject efforts to exempt any tobacco product from regulation, including legislation that has been introduced to exempt some cigars.
The nation's progress is also threatened by the actions of the tobacco industry, which spends $10.5 billion a year – more than one million dollars an hour – to market its deadly and addictive products and ruthlessly fights measures to reduce tobacco use. Philip Morris and R.J. Reynolds just spent more than $45 million against a California ballot initiative to increase the state's cigarette tax by $1, demonstrating how far the industry is willing to go – and how much it is willing to spend – to protect its profits at the expense of kids and health.
Despite our progress, tobacco use still kills more than 400,000 Americans and costs the nation nearly $100 billion in health care bills year. We know how to win the fight against tobacco use, but elected officials need to implement proven solutions as aggressively as the tobacco industry promotes its deadly products.