CDC Survey Finds Youth Smoking Declines Have Slowed; Cigarette Discounts, Tobacco Prevention Cuts Appear Responsible

Statement of William V. Corr, Executive Director, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids

Mar. 31 2005

Washington, DC — The significant progress our nation has made in reducing youth smoking since the mid-1990s has slowed considerably and may even have stalled, according to the 2004 National Youth Tobacco Survey released today by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The survey, published in the April 1, 2005, issue of the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, finds that there was no statistically significant change in smoking rates among either high school or middle school students between 2002 and 2004.

Based on the CDC's analysis, there appear to be two primary reasons for this troubling news. First, the major tobacco companies deserve much of the blame because they have sharply increased marketing expenditures and deeply discounted cigarette prices, which blunted the impact of state cigarette tax increases that otherwise would have significantly reduced youth smoking. These actions show that the tobacco companies always put profits first and cannot be taken seriously when they say they don't want kids to smoke. Second, from 2002 to 2004, the states cut funding for tobacco prevention programs by 28 percent, and at the national level, the American Legacy Foundation had to reduce its successful truth® anti-smoking media campaign because most of its funding under the 1998 state tobacco settlement ended after 2003. The CDC's findings confirm that science-based measures long advocated by the public health community to reduce smoking work. When cigarette prices rose by 80 percent and funding for tobacco prevention programs increased from 1997 to 2002, youth smoking rates declined sharply. When tobacco companies discounted cigarette prices and funding for prevention programs was cut from 2002 to 2004, declines in youth smoking rates slowed or stopped.

The new survey is a wakeup call that we cannot take progress in reducing youth smoking for granted and must redouble our efforts to implement proven measures to reduce tobacco use, including tobacco tax increases, well-funded tobacco prevention and cessation programs at both the national and state levels, and smoke-free workplaces and public places. It is especially important that states counter the cigarette companies' price discounts by significantly increasing cigarette taxes. In addition, Congress must pass legislation granting the U.S. Food and Drug Administration authority over tobacco products, including the authority to crack down on marketing that impacts kids.

The new 2004 CDC survey found that 22.3 percent of high school students (grades 9-12) had smoked in the past month, as had 8.1 percent of middle school students (grades 6-8). According to the CDC, these do not represent statistically significant changes from smoking rates of 22.5 percent for high schoolers and 9.8 percent for middle schoolers in 2002. This is the second government survey in four months to find a slowing or stalling of declines in youth smoking. The Monitoring the Future survey released in December had similar findings for tenth and twelfth graders. The good news is that smoking rates have still declined by 56 percent among eighth graders since peaking in 1996, by 47 percent among tenth graders since peaking in 1996 and by 32 percent among twelfth graders since peaking in 1997, according to Monitoring the Future, which is the only youth smoking survey conducted annually.

The survey released today confirms that increasing the price of cigarettes is one of the most effective ways to reduce smoking, especially among youth, which explains why the tobacco companies have worked so hard to undermine state cigarette tax increases. According to the CDC, the average retail price of cigarettes increased by 80 percent between 1997 and 2002, the period during which youth smoking rates declined most sharply. These price increases were the result of industry-imposed increases to pay for the 1998 tobacco settlement (with a little extra to boost profits) and state and federal cigarette tax increases. However, from 2002 to 2004, cigarette prices increased by only four percent, according to the CDC (price data was from the Consumer Price Index). This small price increase from 2002 to 2004 is at first puzzling because there were an unprecedented 40 state cigarette tax increases in 2002 and 2003, increasing the average state cigarette tax by 63 percent from 44.6 cents a pack on January 1, 2002, to 72.65 cents per pack on January 1, 2004. Left alone, these cigarette tax increases would have significantly increased cigarette prices and significantly reduced youth smoking. However, beginning in summer 2002, the major cigarette manufacturers implemented large cigarette price discounts to counter the state cigarette tax increases and competition from discount cigarette brands. Philip Morris, for example, cut prices by 65 cents per pack for its major brands, including the best-selling Marlboro, in January 2003.

In fact, cigarette manufacturers have come to rely so heavily on price discounts that, in 2002, these discounts consumed 63.2 percent of all cigarette marketing expenditures – $7.9 billion out of total marketing spending of $12.5 billion, according to the Federal Trade Commission's most recent annual report on cigarette marketing. This is the primary reason why total tobacco marketing has increased by 85 percent since the 1998 tobacco settlement, according to the FTC. These cigarette price discounts and more than $1 billion in free cigarette promotions represent an aggressive effort by the tobacco companies to undermine state cigarette tax increases and make cigarettes more affordable to kids, who are their most price-sensitive customers.

Unfortunately, while the tobacco companies have stepped up marketing that impacts kids, states have been doing less to protect our children. From 2002 to 2004, states cut total funding for tobacco prevention programs by 28 percent, from $749.7 million in Fiscal 2002 to $542.6 million in Fiscal 2004. These cuts decimated some of the nation's most successful tobacco prevention programs, including those in Florida, Massachusetts and Minnesota, all of which eliminated pioneering anti-smoking media campaigns. At the national level, the American Legacy Foundation had to reduce its successful truth® campaign because most of its tobacco settlement funding was ending. In contrast, from 1999 to 2002, state tobacco prevention funding more than doubled from $300 million to $749.7 million.

States have no excuses for their failure to do more. They have more evidence than ever before that cigarette tax increases, well-funded prevention and cessation programs and smoke-free policies work to reduce tobacco use among both youth and adults. They are collecting more revenue than ever before from the tobacco settlement and tobacco taxes, more of which should be used to fund tobacco prevention and cessation programs. We know what works to reduce tobacco use. Our elected leaders just need the political will to implement these solutions and accelerate the progress of recent years rather than allowing it to be reversed.

 

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