May. 26 2005
Washington, DC — The annual survey of adult smoking rates released today by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that adult smoking in the United States is declining, but not at the rate needed to achieve the U.S. Surgeon General’s national goal of reducing adult smoking to 12 percent or less by 2010. The adult smoking rate in 2003, the most recent year for which data has been collected, declined to 21.6 percent from 22.5 percent in 2002 according to the annual National Health Interview Survey, to be published in the May 27 issue of the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR).
The CDC survey contains some positive news. Smoking among 18-24 year olds declined significantly from 28.5 percent in 2002 to 23.9 percent in 2003, the lowest level since 1991, a decline largely attributable to the recent decline in youth tobacco use. Also, the smoking rate for women has dropped to 19.2 percent. But the CDC survey also shows a disturbing trend that smoking is increasingly concentrated in groups with low education and low income, those Americans least equipped to deal with the ravages of smoking. State and federal government programs must make extra efforts to reach out to those underserved groups and make resources for prevention and cessation more easily available to them.
While the new CDC results for women and young adults are indications of progress, the minimal decline in adult smoking rates demonstrates the need to further implement policies and programs that are proven to reduce smoking among adults and kids. These programs include comprehensive tobacco prevention and cessation programs, smoke-free laws, and substantial cigarette tax hikes. As an example, California, which was the first state to fully implement the full range of tobacco use reduction programs, has reduced adult smoking a full 25 percent lower than the country as a whole. If every state emulated California’s smoking rate reductions, the nation would have 11 million fewer smokers, thus saving millions of lives over time as well as billions of dollars in healthcare costs.
The lack of greater progress in reducing smoking is largely attributable to ongoing efforts by the tobacco industry to oppose programs proven to reduce smoking such as increases in cigarette taxes and smoke-free laws that prohibit smoking in restaurants, bars and other workplaces. Despite spending millions on lavish public relations campaigns designed to convince a largely skeptical public that the industry has changed, the tobacco companies are still spending $12.7 billion annually to promote and market products that kill more than 400,000 Americans each year. A substantial portion of the industry’s marketing is cynically targeted at kids and groups of Americans with low education and income levels who constitute the majority of smokers.
In recent years, tobacco companies have introduced a new generation of so-called “reduced risk” products designed to convince smokers that they can protect their health without quitting. The tobacco industry has a long history of making unsubstantiated health claims that have resulted in the deaths of millions of Americans. Congress needs to force big tobacco to prove its claims of “reduced risk” by passing strong and effective legislation, introduced in both houses of Congress this year, to give the U.S. Food and Drug Administration authority to regulate the tobacco industry and put an end to false claims and deceptive marketing.
There must be a major commitment of resources to tobacco cessation and prevention by both the states and the federal government if we are to succeed in further reducing smoking rates for both adults and kids. Tobacco use continues to be the number one preventable cause of death, killing more than 400,000 people annually in the U.S. and costing our nation more than $75 billion in health care costs every year. A national commitment to stem the terrible toll smoking takes on America’s families is within our reach and long overdue.