Dec. 13 2001
Washington, DC — Results of Maine’s 2001 Youth Risk Behavior Survey add to the growing evidence that aggressive public health measures, including comprehensive tobacco prevention programs and cigarette price increases, are working to reduce youth tobacco use. Maine’s results show that tobacco use among Maine’s high school students has declined a dramatic 36 percent since 1997, falling from 39.2 percent to 25 percent.
Maine’s spectacular results demonstrate what states can accomplish when they implement proven measures to reduce tobacco use as recommended by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Surgeon General of the United States. Maine in 1997 increased its cigarette excise tax and used a portion of those funds to establish a comprehensive tobacco prevention program known as the Partnership for a Tobacco-Free Maine. Maine has subsequently augmented its program with proceeds from the 1998 state tobacco settlement, which also resulted in a further increase in cigarette prices (the state also raised cigarette taxes again in 2001, to $1.00 per pack). As a result, Maine today is one of only five states that funds tobacco prevention programs at levels recommended by the CDC.
Maine’s success provides the latest proof in a growing body of evidence that comprehensive tobacco prevention programs work to reduce smoking, save lives and reduce health care costs. At a time when many states are facing severe budget deficits, tobacco prevention is one of the smartest and most fiscally responsible investments states can make. Unfortunately, too few states are currently funding tobacco prevention programs at even the minimum amounts recommended by the CDC. It is inexcusable that the vast majority of states has failed to take advantage of the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity presented by the tobacco settlement to address what is the leading cause of preventable death in our nation. And it is tragic that elected officials in some states, including Florida and Ohio, have recently cut funding for tobacco prevention just as we are beginning to make progress.
Cutting tobacco prevention is penny-wise and pound-foolish. If adequately funded and sustained over time, tobacco prevention programs can substantially reduce a state’s health care costs as demonstrated by California and Massachusetts, which have two of the nation’s oldest tobacco prevention programs. Studies have shown that California, which started its program in 1989, is now saving more than $3 in smoking-caused health care costs for every dollar it spends on tobacco prevention. Massachusetts, which started its program in 1993, is already saving more than $2 for every dollar spent on tobacco prevention.
In addition to saving money, tobacco prevention protects kids and saves lives. California, Massachusetts and Arizona, which have three of the nation’s oldest tobacco prevention programs, have reduced tobacco use far beyond national declines. In the three years since starting its program in 1998, Florida cut smoking rates by 47 percent among middle school students and 30 percent among high school students. This decline represents nearly 75,000 fewer youth smokers and more than 24,000 premature smoking deaths. Recent studies show that California has saved tens of thousands of lives by reducing smoking-caused birth complications, heart disease, strokes and lung cancer.
Maine’s results also show that increasing cigarette excise taxes is also effective at reducing smoking rates. Every state that has raised its cigarette tax in recent years has both reduced smoking and increased revenues to balance budgets and fund vital programs Studies show that every 10 percent increase in the cigarette tax will reduce youth smoking by approximately seven percent and overall cigarette consumption by three to five percent. As Washington voters showed in November when they approved a 60 cents per pack increase in that state’s cigarette tax by a 65 to 35 percent margin, raising cigarette taxes is both good policy and politically popular. The right way to balance state budgets is to increase the cigarette tax, not to raid tobacco prevention programs.
Maine’s results show once again that we know how to reduce tobacco use and its attendant devastation on the nation’s health and economy. Cigarette tax increases and comprehensive tobacco prevention programs work. Governors and state legislators across the country need the political will to implement these proven solutions.