Sep. 5 2002
Washington, DC — The 2001 National Household Survey on Drug Abuse released today shows that our nation continues to make gradual progress in reducing youth tobacco use, but the progress is slow and tobacco marketing, especially for Philip Morris' Marlboro brand, remains highly effective at attracting children. These results show that aggressive public health measures, including comprehensive state tobacco prevention programs, increased cigarette taxes, and smoke-free environments, are working to reduce youth smoking and the tremendous toll in health, lives and money that tobacco use continues to take. However, just as we are making meaningful progress in reducing youth tobacco use, the current budget crisis many states are facing is putting this progress at risk. We are now at a critical juncture in our nation's tobacco prevention efforts. If state officials respond by raising cigarette taxes and increasing funding for tobacco prevention, we can accelerate the progress we have made. If state leaders reduce their commitment to tobacco prevention, as they have done recently in pioneering states such as Massachusetts and California, we may well see youth smoking rates rise again.
One of the survey's most disturbing findings is that, for the second year in a row, Philip Morris' Marlboro has increased its already dominant share of the youth market, with 55.2 percent of smokers aged 12 to 17 reporting Marlboro as their usual brand (up from 54.5 percent in 1999). Since the November 1998 state tobacco settlement, Philip Morris has aggressively sought to convince the public and policy makers that it no longer markets to kids, but Marlboro's growing dominance of the youth market is powerful evidence otherwise. 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 practices continue to reach kids with devastating effectiveness. Altogether, the three most heavily advertised brands, Marlboro, Lorillard's Newport, and R.J. Reynolds' Camel, continue to account for the vast majority of smoking among adolescents (87.4 percent). This is a powerful argument for Congress to grant the U.S. Food and Drug Administration meaningful authority to regulate tobacco products, including prohibiting marketing practices effective at reaching kids.
While we have made encouraging progress, youth smoking remains at unacceptably high levels. Every day, 2,000 more kids become daily smokers; one-third of them will die prematurely as a result. Tobacco use also remains alarmingly high among young adults aged 18 to 25, with 43.9 percent reporting some kind of tobacco use in the past month. Every year, tobacco use kills more than 400,000 people in the United States and costs our nation $75 billion in smoking-caused health care costs, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The tobacco companies are spending a record $9.6 billion a year – $26 million a day – to market their deadly products. We have developed the equivalent of a vaccine to protect our kids from this deadly addiction. Even in these difficult budget times, we have an obligation to provide this vaccine to every child in every state.
(Findings from the 2001 National Household Survey on Drug Abuse are available on the Internet at www.drugabusestatistics.samhsa.gov.)