Sep. 6 2013
WASHINGTON, DC — Setting an example for other states and the nation, Florida reduced its high school smoking rate to just 8.6 percent in 2013, according to results of the 2013 Florida Youth Tobacco Survey recently released by the state. This is one of the lowest high school smoking rates ever recorded by any state and far below the national high school smoking rate of 15.8 percent in the most recent equivalent national survey, the 2011 National Youth Tobacco Survey.
Florida's remarkable progress makes two things perfectly clear. First, it is powerful affirmation that we know how to reduce smoking and other tobacco use by implementing proven strategies, including tobacco tax increases, well-funded and sustained tobacco prevention and cessation programs, and strong smoke-free laws. Second, it demonstrates to other states and the entire nation that we can drive down youth smoking rates far below current levels by effectively implementing these solutions. By fully implementing these strategies, every state and the nation as a whole can cut smoking rates to well below 10 percent and put the United States on course toward creating a tobacco-free generation. If every state reduced youth smoking to the same low rate as Florida, there would be 1.6 million fewer youth smokers in the U.S.
While the nation has made enormous progress in reducing smoking, it is simply unacceptable that smoking rates remain as high as they are when we know how to do far better, as shown by places such as Florida and New York City, which has cut high school smoking to just 8.5 percent. Tobacco use is the number one cause of preventable death in the United States, killing more than 400,000 people and costing $96 billion in health care bills each year. As we approach the 50th anniversary of the first Surgeon General’s report on smoking, issued in 1964, Florida’s results are a timely reminder that it shouldn’t take another 50 years to win the fight against tobacco and its devastating health and financial toll.
Key to Florida's success is the Tobacco-Free Florida (TFF) program. Launched in 2007 and based on best practices developed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the program implements community-based efforts including the youth-led Students Working Against Tobacco (SWAT), hard-hitting media campaigns and help for smokers who want to quit. Funding for the program comes from a constitutional amendment approved by Florida voters in 2006 requiring the state to spend 15 percent of its tobacco settlement funds on tobacco prevention. This amendment was in response to the elimination of funding for the innovative and highly successful Florida Truth youth prevention campaign, also funded with settlement dollars, which contributed to smoking declines in Florida and served as a model for tobacco prevention programs around the country.
In addition to funding tobacco prevention, Florida implemented a voter-approved smoke-free law in 2003 that includes restaurants and other workplaces (but not bars). In 2009, Florida increased the state cigarette tax by $1 per pack. As a result, Florida has cut high school smoking by 69 percent since 1998 (from 27.4 percent to 8.6 percent in 2013) and by 41 percent since 2007. Smoking rates among middle school students have plummeted 86 percent since 1998, falling to 2.6 percent in 2013.
Florida's smoking declines have accelerated since 2009, when the state's initiatives were bolstered by a reinvigorated national effort to reduce smoking. In 2009, Congress and President Obama enacted a 62-cent increase in the federal cigarette tax and a landmark law granting the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authority over tobacco products. Among other things, the FDA has cracked down on tobacco marketing and sales to kids and enforced a ban on candy and fruit-flavored cigarettes that entice kids.
Despite its gains, Florida's battle against tobacco is far from over. To keep making progress, Florida must continue its tobacco prevention programs, close loopholes in the smoke-free law that currently exempt bars and further increase the state cigarette tax, which at $1.34 is still below the national average of $1.53 per pack.
It is also important to note that while the Florida survey also shows declines in youth cigar smoking, more high school and middle school students in Florida currently smoke cigars than cigarettes (among high school students, 9.3 percent currently smoke cigars, while 8.6 percent smoke cigarettes). These results come as tobacco companies have introduced an array of cheap, sweet cigars that evade higher taxes on cigarettes and the FDA’s ban on flavored cigarettes. These results show why the FDA must extend its authority to cigars and why it would be a mistake for Congress to pass legislation to totally exempt some cigars from regulation.