Oct. 4 2001
Washington, DC — The 2000 National Household Survey on Drug Abuse released today is consistent with other surveys showing that, after peaking in 1997, youth smoking rates in the United States have been declining gradually. This is very good news for our nation's public health. These results show that aggressive public health measures, including cigarette price increases and comprehensive tobacco prevention programs, are working to protect our kids from tobacco addiction and premature death from tobacco-related disease.
The recent declines coincide with cigarette price increases that followed the November 1998 state tobacco settlement and the implementation by some states of comprehensive tobacco prevention programs. The few states that have implemented such programs, including California, Florida and Massachusetts, have reported substantial declines in tobacco use. Unfortunately, only five states are currently funding such programs at the minimum levels recommended by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and funding for prevention programs is at risk in several states as a result of budget shortfalls. Youth smoking rates will stop declining and will rise again if tobacco prevention efforts are not sustained and expanded to more states. It is inexcusable that more states are not implementing such measures, and it would be tragic for states to reduce their commitment just as we are beginning to make progress.
While the overall trend is positive, today's survey also contains some bad news. The most alarming data show the continued impact of tobacco advertising on kids despite state settlement's prohibition on targeting children. The survey shows that the three most heavily advertised brands, Marlboro, Newport and Camel, continue to account for the vast majority of adolescent smoking, with 54.8 percent of current smokers age 12-17 reporting Philip Morris' Marlboro as their usual brand. Philip Morris has been especially aggressive in trying to convince the public and policy makers that it no longer markets to kids, yet there has been no decline in youth preference for Marlboro. Would a changed, responsible company continue to attract more youth smokers than all other brands combined? Philip Morris' plan seems to be to claim loudly that it does not want kids to smoke in the hope we don't notice that its marketing efforts continue to reach kids with devastating effectiveness. Congress must grant the U.S. Food and Drug Administration authority to regulate tobacco products, including prohibiting marketing practices effective at reaching kids.
Today's survey also shows that the decline in smoking over the past year is significant only among boys. In addition, smoking rates remain alarmingly high – more than 40 percent – for particular groups including American Indians/Alaska Natives and non-college 18-22 year-olds. Smoking among 18-25 year-olds remains dramatically higher than any age group at 38.3 percent, which reflects the increase in youth smoking throughout the 1990s and the tobacco industry's targeted marketing of this age group. It is also alarming that nearly 60 percent of youth smokers reported that they had personally bought cigarettes at least once in the past month, indicating the ineffectiveness of industry age verification programs such as Philip Morris' "We Card" and the harm caused by the end of federally-funded compliance checks as a result of the March 2000 U.S. Supreme Court ruling overturning the FDA's tobacco rule.
Finally, it is important to note that while the gradual downward trend reported today is consistent with that identified in other surveys, these household surveys tend to underestimate the absolute prevalence of tobacco use. Youth smoking remains at unacceptably high levels and the tobacco companies continue to lure more kids to their deadly products every day. If we do not redouble our efforts to address the problem, we will not only see no further declines; we may well see youth smoking rise again. We can't let that happen.