Apr. 15 2004
Washington, DC — A new report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows that only six months after Minnesota legislators eliminated the state’s aggressive, successful “Target Market” youth anti-tobacco campaign, kids in Minnesota were at substantially greater risk of falling victim to tobacco addiction. Given the number of states that have recently cut back on tobacco prevention funding, this study is of particular concern. The clear message of the study is that states that cut back on tobacco prevention funding are putting their kids at risk.
According to the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (4/15/04), Minnesota’s funding for tobacco prevention was reduced from $23.7 million to $4.6 million in July 2003. Subsequently, a study done by the Survey Research Center at the University of Florida showed that by the end of 2003 the percentage of Minnesota’s 12-17 year olds susceptible to cigarette smoking increased from 43.3 to 52.9 percent in the six months after the program was eliminated. That’s a 22 percent increase in potential youth smokers in just six months. The study also found that awareness of the “Target Market” ™ campaign among 12-17 year olds in Minnesota had declined from 84.5 percent in July to 56.5 percent in December.
These findings from Minnesota are particularly ominous because Minnesota is far from the only state to cut funding for tobacco prevention. Despite receiving record amounts of revenue from the November 1998 tobacco settlement and tobacco taxes, states have cut over $200 million in the last two years from the very tobacco prevention programs that have helped produce record declines in smoking among kids. In the past two years, states have cut funding for their tobacco prevention programs by more than a quarter, and several states have completely eviscerated some of the most successful and promising tobacco prevention programs in history. Only four states - Maine, Delaware, Mississippi and Arkansas - currently fund tobacco prevention and cessation programs at minimum levels recommended by the CDC. It would take less than 10 percent of the revenue states generate from the settlement and tobacco taxes to fund tobacco prevention at the CDC minimum in every state in the country. Nonetheless, thirty-eight states and the District of Columbia fund tobacco prevention programs at less than half the CDC's minimum level or provide no state funding at all.
The Target Market”™ program was begun in 2000 and used paid advertising, a youth organization and a website to get the message out to Minnesota kids. The message got through. Between 2000 and 2002, current cigarette use declined by 21 percent among Minnesota middle school kids and by 11 percent among high school students. Large majorities of Minnesota teens expressed increased awareness of how tobacco companies target and market to kids and the proportion of Minnesota teens that felt they could fight back against tobacco marketing increased dramatically. These gains are likely to be reversed with the elimination of the “Target Market”™ program.
The failure of Minnesota’s elected officials to fund the “Target Market”™ program and the resulting increase in youth susceptibility to smoking underscores the need for adequate funding of anti-tobacco programs to prevent tobacco use among kids. The CDC report points out that other states where successful tobacco prevention programs have been cut, notably Florida and Massachusetts, are likely to see similar increases in youth susceptibility to smoking. The prevalence of youth smoking has declined most rapidly in states like Minnesota that have used comprehensive approaches to reducing teen tobacco use including extensive paid media campaigns.
It is inexcusable that states like Minnesota, and far too many others have chosen to turn their back on kids by cutting existing, successful tobacco prevention programs that have dramatically lowered the number of kids who smoke. These programs have worked in every state where they have been implemented. The 1998 tobacco settlement gave all 50 states $246 billion to do something meaningful about the nation’s number one cause of preventable death. So far, the vast majority of the states have failed to take advantage of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to stem the terrible toll from tobacco-caused addiction and disease.. If these recent findings from Minnesota are any indication, and if state legislators and governors continue to squander the opportunity presented by the tobacco settlement funds, we can expect the tobacco company efforts to addict our children to be even more successful and the recent progress in reducing tobacco use among kids to erode.