Nov. 1 2001
Washington, DC — The Youth Tobacco Survey released today by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that youth tobacco use remains a pediatric epidemic in the United States, with more than a third of high school students and more than 15 percent of middle school students reporting having used some form of tobacco in the past month. While recent surveys show some decline in youth tobacco use, youth smoking rates remain much too high. The need is as great as ever for aggressive public health measures, including comprehensive tobacco prevention programs and cigarette price increases, that we know work to protect our kids from tobacco addiction and premature death from tobacco-related disease.
Several recent studies, and experience in states that have taken action, show conclusively that cigarette price increases and comprehensive tobacco prevention programs work to reduce youth smoking. It is inexcusable that more states are not implementing such measures, and it is tragic that some states, such as Florida, are reducing their commitment just as we are beginning to make progress. Florida lawmakers just this week voted to slash funding for the state's pioneering tobacco prevention program despite the powerful evidence that it is protecting kids, saving lives and saving money for state taxpayers by reducing tobacco-caused health costs. Other states, including Ohio, are considering similar action. As many states face budget shortfalls, we hope that leaders will see that is both good public health policy and good fiscal policy to increase cigarette taxes and fund comprehensive tobacco prevention programs.
It is critical that state legislatures allocate a significant portion of the funds they receive from the settlement with the tobacco companies to comprehensive programs to discourage tobacco use. We have growing evidence in the few states that have implemented them that such programs work. California, Massachusetts and Arizona have reduced tobacco use far beyond national declines, and Florida cut smoking rates by 47 percent among middle school students and by 30 percent among high school students in just three years. Recent studies show that California's pioneering prevention program is not only reducing tobacco consumption, but also saving lives by reducing rates of heart disease and lung and bronchial cancer. We urge governors and state legislatures to include substantial funds for tobacco prevention in their state budgets. These programs save lives and taxpayer money.
At a time when the tobacco industry spends close to a million dollars every hour marketing its products, states are spending only a fraction of that amount to protect their kids. The most recent Federal Trade Commission data show that the tobacco industry is spending $8.24 billion every year marketing its products, much of it in ways effective at reaching kids.
We have the tools to reduce smoking – the number one preventable cause of death in the United States – but too many states lack the resolve to use them. We need increased funding of comprehensive tobacco prevention programs and increases in excise taxes on tobacco products. Without these and other legislative actions, we may win a few battles against youth tobacco use, but we will certainly lose the war.