Mar. 8 2012
WASHINGTON, DC — The U.S. Surgeon General's report released today makes two things perfectly clear: The tobacco industry's marketing is still addicting America's kids, and elected officials – especially in the states — need to do more to protect our children from the scourge of tobacco.
While the nation has made tremendous progress in reducing smoking, this report is a stark warning that the battle against tobacco must be a national priority. It finds that tobacco use remains a "pediatric epidemic" that afflicts millions of children, immediately harming their health and putting them on a path to debilitating disease and premature death. It is unacceptable that 18 years after the first Surgeon General's report on youth smoking, more than 3.6 million middle and high school students still smoke — and another 1.4 million try their first cigarette each year – when we have cost-effective, evidence-based solutions to prevent them from doing so.
The report, Preventing Tobacco Use Among Youth and Young Adults, reaches two especially troubling conclusions:
Despite reductions in smoking, more young people still become regular smokers every year than the 443,000 Americans who die from tobacco use. In fact, for every tobacco-related death, at least two youths or young adults become new regular smokers, and nearly 90 percent of these "replacement smokers" try their first cigarette by age 18. We cannot win the fight against tobacco — the nation's number one cause of preventable death – unless we stop the tobacco industry from recruiting this new generation of smokers.
Cigarette smoking immediately and permanently harms the health of kids and young adults. Smoking quickly causes nicotine addiction, cardiovascular damage, slower lung growth and shortness of breath.
Today's report also leaves no doubt that there are proven strategies to reduce tobacco use: mass media campaigns that vividly demonstrate the dangers of smoking, increasing the price of cigarettes through higher tobacco taxes, comprehensive prevention programs, smoke-free air laws, and restrictions on tobacco marketing. This report MUST spur a renewed commitment by all levels of government to implement these proven strategies.
Policy Makers Must Act to Protect Kids
The Obama Administration has provided much-needed national leadership in this fight, including enactment of the landmark law granting the Food and Drug Administration authority over tobacco products, a 61-cent increase in the federal cigarette tax, and increased support for tobacco prevention and cessation programs. But the tobacco industry has gone to court to block key measures, including marketing restrictions and graphic cigarette warnings required by the FDA law.
Unfortunately, the states have been going backwards. In the past four years, the states have cut funding for tobacco prevention programs, including mass media campaigns, by 36 percent ($260.5 million). States are spending less than two percent of the revenue they collect from the tobacco settlement and tobacco taxes on these life-saving programs. Recent studies show that these programs not only reduce smoking and save lives, but also save money by reducing tobacco-related health care costs. One study showed that in the first 10 years of its program, Washington state saved $5 in hospitalization costs alone for every $1 spent.
State progress has also slowed in enacting tobacco tax increases and smoke-free laws as the tobacco industry and its allies have stepped up their opposition to such measures, even seeking to roll them back.
Tobacco Marketing Is Still Addicting Kids
The Surgeon General's report provides a powerful reminder that the tobacco industry is the main cause of the tobacco epidemic. It concludes definitively that tobacco marketing causes kids to start and continue using tobacco products, finding that the scientific evidence "consistently and coherently points to the intentional marketing of tobacco products to youth as being a cause of young people's tobacco use."
While legal settlements and laws have curtailed some of their marketing, the tobacco companies still spend $10.5 billion a year – nearly $29 million each day – to market cigarettes and smokeless tobacco products, according to the latest data from the Federal Trade Commission. Tobacco marketing expenditures increased by 52 percent between 1998 and 2008 despite restrictions imposed by the 1998 legal settlement between the states and the tobacco companies.
Tobacco companies are undermining and circumventing restrictions on their marketing and continue to make their products appealing, accessible and affordable to kids. For example:
Tobacco marketing today is concentrated in convenience stores and other retail outlets, where tobacco companies spend billions to ensure their products are heavily advertised, displayed prominently and priced cheaply. Two-thirds of teenagers visit convenience stores at least once a week, and studies have found that price discounts and exposure to tobacco marketing in stores increase youth smoking. (For more information about store marketing, including a slideshow, visit our recent report).
Marketing for smokeless tobacco has skyrocketed by 277 percent since the 1998 settlement, Tobacco companies have introduced an array of colorfully-packaged and sweetly-flavored smokeless tobacco products, including new products that look and dissolve like mints.
Tobacco companies also have introduced a variety of smaller cigars, called little cigars or cigarillos, with sweet flavors such as grape and strawberry, colorful packaging and cheap prices that make them appealing to kids.
Today's report makes clear that the tobacco companies are as aggressive as ever in marketing their deadly products, and they continue to bombard our kids with messages and images encouraging them to smoke and use other tobacco products. Policy makers at all levels MUST take equally aggressive action to protect our children. It's time to side with America's kids, not the tobacco industry.