Apr. 11 2003
Washington, D.C. — A new study published today by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows there was little change in adult smoking rates in most states from 1996 to 2001 and underscores the need for states and the federal government to do more to help smokers quit. These results stand in contrast to recent surveys showing that youth smoking rates have declined dramatically in recent years after alarming increases in the first half of the 1990s. Clearly, we are doing a better job of preventing kids from starting to smoke than we are in helping adults to quit. We must do both if we are to succeed in reducing the tremendous toll of tobacco use, which kills more than 400,000 people in the U.S. and costs our nation more than $75 billion in health care costs every year.
The study also found that in 31 states and the District of Columbia, there was a significant decrease in the number of daily smokers and a significant increase in the percentage of current smokers who said they smoked on some days rather than every day. The health consequences of reducing smoking frequency are not clear, and there is no safe alternative to quitting smoking, which has tremendous immediate and long-term health benefits. In light of today's study, it should be a scientific priority to study both the health consequences of reduced smoking frequency and the reasons why smokers are changing their smoking behavior.
It is important to note that the new study, published in the April 11, 2003, issue of the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR), analyzes data from 2001 and earlier. Since then, more than half the states have increased their cigarette taxes, a growing number of cities and states have enacted comprehensive smoke-free workplace policies, and additional states have begun to reap the benefits of comprehensive tobacco prevention and cessation programs implemented with funding from cigarette taxes and the November 1998 state tobacco settlement.
Today's study provides strong evidence that states can reduce adult smoking rates if they implement these proven public health measures, including comprehensive, sustained and well-funded tobacco prevention and cessation programs. Three of the states that have aggressively implemented these measures for the longest period of time – California, Massachusetts, and Oregon – have the second, third and sixth lowest adult smoking rates respectively. California's pioneering tobacco prevention and cessation program, funded with a voter-approved cigarette tax increase, has been in place since 1990, and the state has one of the nation's most comprehensive smoke-free workplace policies. Massachusetts and Oregon implemented their prevention and cessation programs, also funded with voter-approved cigarette tax increases, in 1993 and 1997 respectively. All three states significantly reduced adult smoking rates from 1996 to 2001 (declines were 7.5 percent in California, 15.8 percent in Massachusetts and 12.8 percent in Oregon). All three of these state programs included both youth prevention and adult cessation components based on the CDC's recommendations.
Unfortunately rather than redoubling their efforts, too many states have reduced funding for tobacco prevention and cessation programs as a result of the current budget deficits. These states include California, which cut its program by more than a third, Massachusetts, which cut its program by 90 percent, and Oregon, which at least temporarily has eliminated all funding for its program. States have plenty of money from tobacco taxes and the tobacco settlement to fund these programs at CDC-recommended levels and still have plenty left over to meet other needs. If they fail to properly fund tobacco prevention and cessation programs, they will pay a high price in lives lost to smoking-caused disease and more taxpayer dollars spent on health care bills. The evidence from California and Massachusetts is that these programs can save up to three dollars in health care costs for every dollar spent.
The federal government must also do its part to make smoking cessation medication and counseling more affordable and accessible to smokers. Studies have indicated that the high cost and lack of access to such services are among the primary obstacles to reducing smoking in the U.S. An advisory committee to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recently recommended increasing the federal cigarette tax by $2 per pack and using at least half the revenue for smoking cessation initiatives, including providing smoking cessation counseling and medication to all smokers who want them. Unfortunately, the Administration has stated that it will not support the cigarette tax increase. We urge the Administration to reconsider its position in light of the evidence from the new study that we need bold and aggressive efforts at all levels if we are to succeed in reducing adult smoking rates and smoking-caused deaths in the U.S.