Tobacco Industry Should Be Required to Continue Funding Public Education Campaign

Statement of Matthew L. Myers President, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids

Mar. 16 2004

Washington, DC — Tobacco use is this nation’s number one preventable cause of death and disease, yet the American Legacy Foundation's truth® public education campaign is the only national public education campaign devoted to tobacco. Truth® is a vital element in the overall effort to reduce tobacco use and its devastating consequences in the U.S. Truth® has been an extraordinary success. In conjunction with other public health efforts, truth® is making a major difference and has contributed to the decline in youth tobacco use since its inception. Without truth® and with the decline in tobacco prevention funding in many states, we run the serious risk that the progress we have made in reducing youth tobacco use will be reversed. That would be a national tragedy. Therefore, it is essential that we act and act now to sustain the ability of the American Legacy Foundation to continue to reach out to our nation’s children as broadly and as effectively as it has for the last several years.

When state attorneys general settled their lawsuits against the tobacco companies in 1998 through the Master Settlement Agreement (MSA), the MSA itself and the attorneys general and other state officials in their public comments made it clear that reducing smoking among our nation’s children was the agreement’s foremost goal. At the time of the MSA, state attorneys general who negotiated the agreement understood that it was critically important that the public education campaign mandated by the MSA continue well beyond the minimum five-year period for which funding was guaranteed if the intent of the MSA was to be fulfilled. They indicated that it was their expectation that it would do so. You don’t correct a problem like youth tobacco use that was decades in the making in just five years.

Why is it so important that truth® be continued? Every year a new generation of young people reaches the age of vulnerability. Any serious effort to bring about fundamental change requires a sustained, long-term effort. Today our children are as much at risk as they were when the MSA was negotiated. Tobacco marketing expenditures have skyrocketed since the MSA, and the evidence shows that the tobacco industry has not stopped marketing to our kids. They know that 90 percent of all smokers start as teens or younger, and their marketing reflects their desire to find replacement smokers for the 1,200 Americans who die every day from tobacco use. Despite our progress in reducing youth smoking, some 2,000 kids still become regular smokers every day and nearly a quarter of high school students still graduate as smokers.

For all of these reasons, we call on the participants to the Master Settlement Agreement to require the tobacco industry to continue to carry out the original intent of the attorneys general by continuing to fund the American Legacy Foundation’s public education campaign through the MSA. Anything less than an agreement to continuing funding this public education campaign at its current level, on a sustained basis, and without additional restrictions or industry interference would be an act of bad faith by the tobacco industry.

 

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