May. 20 2004
Washington, DC — Adding to the now overwhelming evidence that tobacco prevention measures work, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced today that smoking rates among high school students declined by 23 percent from 2001 to 2003 and by 40 percent since rates peaked in 1997. The CDC’s Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) found that in 2003, 21.9 percent of high school students (grades 9-12) smoked, compared to 28.5 percent in 2001 and 36.4 percent in 1997. High school smoking rates are now at their lowest levels since the YRBS was first conducted in 1991. These findings are similar to those of other national government-sponsored surveys, including the Monitoring the Future Survey and the National Youth Tobacco Survey.
The dramatic decline in youth smoking rates is great news for our nation’s health and the future of our children. It is powerful proof that we know how to reduce tobacco use with higher tobacco taxes, well-funded tobacco prevention and cessation programs and smoke-free workplaces and public places. These solutions work to reduce smoking not only among kids, but among adults as well, as demonstrated by the 11 percent decline in adult smoking in just one year that was recently reported by New York City. These results strip elected officials of any excuse for failing to act against what is the nation’s leading preventable cause of death and disease. We know what works to reduce tobacco’s terrible toll in health, lives and money. We just need the political will to act.
Unfortunately, this extraordinary progress may be in jeopardy because too many states have cut funding for tobacco prevention programs in recent years. Early results from Minnesota, Massachusetts and Florida indicate these cuts risk a reversal of our hard-won progress. In Minnesota, which cut funding for youth tobacco prevention from $23.7 million to $4.6 million in July 2003, a CDC report recently found a 22 percent increase in youths susceptible to cigarette smoking in just six months. In Massachusetts, which cut funding for tobacco prevention from $48 million in Fiscal 2002 to $2.5 million in Fiscal 2004, undercover sting operations last year found a doubling in illegal tobacco sales to minors in communities forced to shut down their tobacco prevention efforts. In Florida, increases in smoking rates among youth as they progressed through middle school jumped dramatically after the tobacco prevention budget was slashed. Prior to the recent cuts, all three states had reported large reductions in youth smoking. Other states may very well see similar reversals as a result of more than $200 million in cuts to tobacco prevention programs from Fiscal 2002 to Fiscal 2004.
Currently, only four states - Maine, Delaware, Mississippi and Arkansas - fund tobacco prevention programs at minimum levels recommended by the CDC. States are collecting record amounts of tobacco revenue from recent tobacco tax increases and the 1998 state tobacco settlement. In fact, it would take less than ten percent of their total tobacco-generated revenue to fully fund tobacco prevention and cessation programs in every state. As states emerge from recent budget shortfalls, they have an obligation to use these tobacco revenues to restore and increase funding for tobacco prevention programs. If they fail to do so, the recent progress we have made in reducing youth smoking will be at risk.