May. 16 2002
Washington, DC — A report released today by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that smoking rates among high school students declined by 18 percent nationwide from 1999 to 2001. This report is terrific news for the nation's health. It is powerful evidence that tobacco prevention and control measures long advocated by the public health community, including comprehensive prevention programs, increased cigarette taxes and smoke-free environments, are working to reduce the terrible toll of tobacco in the United States. These measures are the equivalent of a vaccine that is working to protect our kids from the addiction, disease and death caused by tobacco use. Now that we know this vaccine works, it is even more important that elected officials in every state fund comprehensive prevention programs, increase cigarette taxes and adopt smoke-free environments to ensure that we protect every child in every generation. It would be irresponsible to do otherwise and leave our children unprotected.
States that are not currently implementing these measures should act quickly to do so, and states that have done the right thing should redouble their efforts rather than cutting them back, as some have proposed during the current difficult budget environment. We have evidence from states such as Florida and California that cutbacks in tobacco prevention can quickly stall and even reverse progress in reducing youth smoking.
The good news from this survey must also be tempered. While we have made encouraging progress, high school smoking rates are still higher than in 1991, when rates began to skyrocket. Tobacco use is still a pediatric epidemic. More than one in four high school students still smoke. 5,000 kids will still try their first cigarette today, and another 2,000 kids will become daily, addicted smokers, one-third of whom will die prematurely as a result. Smoking-caused disease will kill more than 440,000 Americans this year and cost more than $150 billion in health care expenses and productivity losses, according to a recent CDC report. Rather than declaring victory, we must redouble our efforts and commit to taking the steps needed to achieve and exceed the 2010 national health objective of reducing high school smoking to 16 percent or less.
It is also troubling that we are turning into a nation of haves and have-nots with regard to tobacco prevention. The majority of states still have not implemented comprehensive prevention programs or increased their cigarette taxes in recent years. In fact, there is evidence that the progress reflected in today's report is driven in large part by the few states that have implemented effective tobacco prevention programs and policies. The available data show that these states are experiencing greater declines in high school smoking than the national drop. While the CDC survey shows a 21.7 percent decline in high school smoking from 1997 to 2001, Maine and Vermont have reported reductions of 36.7 percent and 38.9 percent respectively in the same time period. Florida achieved reductions of 30 percent from 1998 to 2001 and 24.6 percent from 1999 to 2001. Mississippi has reported a reduction of 25 percent in public high school smoking from 1999 to 2001. Other states can achieve similar successes if they follow the lead of these states by funding and implementing comprehensive, hard-hitting prevention programs and increasing cigarette taxes.
In addition, the main source of the problem has not gone away. The cigarette companies continue to market their deadly products in ways effective at attracting kids, spending more than $8.2 billion a year on marketing – that's $22.5 million a day (numbers from most recent Federal Trade Commission report on tobacco industry marketing). Also, despite their claims of concern about youth smoking, the tobacco companies continue to aggressively fight proven solutions. From Florida to Washington state and many places in between, Philip Morris and the other tobacco companies have fought cigarette tax and clean indoor air proposals. Philip Morris is pressuring Florida to stop running some of its highly successful "truth" anti-smoking advertisements, while the Lorillard Tobacco Company has gone to court in an effort to shut down the American Legacy Foundation's national anti-smoking ads. Today's survey provides elected officials with powerful evidence to ignore the tobacco industry's self-serving pleas and act to protect our kids instead.