Dec. 19 2001
Washington, DC — The Monitoring the Future survey released today shows that, after increasing dramatically for much of the 1990's, youth smoking rates in the United States are declining significantly. This is very good news for our nation's public health. These results show that aggressive tobacco control measures, including recent cigarette price increases and comprehensive state tobacco prevention programs are making progress at protecting our kids from the addiction, disease and death caused by tobacco.
While the national declines in youth smoking are encouraging, they are driven at least in part by those states that are investing tobacco settlement or tobacco excise tax funds in comprehensive tobacco prevention programs that have proven to work. The available data show that these states are experiencing greater declines in youth smoking than the national drop. For example, between 1998 and 2001, Florida has reduced smoking by 43 percent among eighth graders, 29 percent among tenth graders, and 19 percent among twelfth graders, compared to national declines in these grades of 36 percent, 23 percent, and 16 percent, respectively. Similarly, since 1997, Maine has seen declines of 37 percent among tenth graders and 26 percent among twelfth graders, compared to national declines among these grades of 29 percent and 19 percent. Clearly, the states with the most comprehensive tobacco prevention programs are driving much of the national decline in youth smoking.
The good news from this report must be tempered. Smoking rates have only declined to the levels that existed 10 years ago. It's important to remember that despite this good news, 5,000 kids still try their first cigarette today and, another 2,000 kids will become regular, daily smokers, one-third of whom will die prematurely as a result. Nearly 30 percent of our kids are still smoking by the time they leave high school.
Unfortunately, the programs, like Florida's, that have helped to produce these good results are in serious jeopardy due to shortsighted budget cuts in this time of economic uncertainty. What is required in these difficult budget times is for politicians in state capitols across the country to continue to fund the programs that have caused this decline and to turn budget shortfalls in to public health opportunities. By raising cigarette taxes and by using tobacco settlement money for tobacco prevention, states can and will continue to see these numbers decrease: generating new revenue, and decreasing the $89 billion spent every year treating tobacco-caused disease.
If you think of tobacco addiction as a pediatric disease, the Monitoring the Future data show clearly that we have a vaccine that works. It would be a travesty to allow a temporary economic situation used as an excuse to allow that vaccine to go unused.