Nov. 15 2005
Washington, DC — Today’s announcement of historic declines in youth smoking rates in Maine is the direct result of the state’s unmatched commitment and leadership in the fight against tobacco use and its devastating consequences. Maine is experiencing such dramatic progress because it is one of the few states that have implemented all three of the best proven policies to reduce smoking - effective, fully funded programs to prevent kids from smoking and help smokers quit; a comprehensive smoke-free workplace law that includes restaurants and bars; and a high cigarette tax of $2.00 per pack (Maine doubled its cigarette tax in June 2005). For four years in a row, Maine has ranked first in the nation in funding tobacco prevention.
Today’s results confirm Maine’s place as a national leader in fighting tobacco use. They are proof positive that Maine’s tobacco prevention initiatives are working to protect kids from tobacco addiction, save lives and save money by reducing smoking-caused health care costs. We applaud Governor Baldacci and state legislators who have championed tobacco prevention for their vision and leadership, and we commend the Maine Coalition on Smoking or Health for working tirelessly to reduce tobacco use. Maine is setting an example for the nation that leaders in every state should follow.
According to survey results released today by Governor Baldacci, from 1997 (when it launched its tobacco prevention program) to 2005, Maine reduced smoking by 64 percent among middle school students (from 21 percent to 7.5 percent) and by 59 percent among high school students (from 39.2 percent to 16.2 percent). Maine’s high school smoking rate has gone from being significantly above the national average to significantly below the national average of 21.7 percent in 2004 (2004 is the most recent year for which national high school smoking rates are available).
The Maine Department of Health (DOH) has calculated that, as a result of these declines, there are now 26,031 fewer youth smokers in Maine and 14,317 youth will be saved from premature, smoking-caused deaths. Based on estimates that smokers, on average, have $16,000 more in lifetime health care costs than non-smokers, the DOH calculated that these declines will save Maine more than $416 million in long-term health care costs. Declines in adult smoking and future declines in youth smoking will save even more money. The math speaks for itself. By spending $14.2 million a year on tobacco prevention, as it does now, Maine is saving more than $416 million in future health care costs. It is a return on investment that few, if any, other government programs can match.
Maine’s challenge now is to guard against complacency. In other states, we have seen progress come to a halt because tobacco prevention programs and policies were not sustained. It is critical that Maine’s leaders ensure that the state’s tobacco prevention program is fully funded and sustained to protect every generation of children, especially now that the state will be collecting record amounts of tobacco-generated revenue from the cigarette tax and the state tobacco settlement.
Investing in tobacco prevention is one of the smartest and most fiscally responsible investments that Maine and other states can make. Tobacco prevention programs, smoke-free workplace laws and tobacco tax increases not only reduce smoking and save lives; they are also part of the solution to the skyrocketing health care costs, especially under Medicaid, that are placing such a burden on state budgets. Tobacco costs Maine $554 million a year in health care bills, including $199 million under Medicaid. The average Maine household pays $618 a year in taxes because of smoking-caused government expenditures. Businesses pay even more because of higher health insurance costs and lost productivity. We commend Maine for the great progress the state has made in reducing tobacco’s terrible toll and encourage Maine’s leaders to remain committed to reducing tobacco use for generations to come.