CDC Reports Adult Smoking Declines Have Stalled; Elected Officials Should Step Up Fight Against Tobacco

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

Nov. 8 2007

Washington, D.C. — Sounding an alarm that should be heard in Congress and statehouses across the country, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported today that the adult smoking rate in the United States was at a standstill for the second year in a row in 2006 after several years of steady declines. The CDC reported that 20.8 percent of U.S. adults smoked in 2006, about the same as the 20.9 percent who smoked in 2004 and 2005. This stall follows a 15.4 percent decline in adult smoking between 1997 and 2004 (from 24.7 percent to 20.9 percent).

Youth smoking declines have similarly stalled in recent years after declining significantly since the mid-1990s, and 23 percent of high school students still smoke, according to the most recent CDC data.

It is troubling news for America’s health that progress has stalled in reducing tobacco use, the nation’s number one preventable cause of death. It is also inexcusable that elected leaders have not done more given the overwhelming scientific evidence of what works to reduce tobacco use among both children and adults. Just this year, landmark reports by the Institute of Medicine (IOM) of the National Academies of Sciences and the President’s Cancer Panel have agreed on the steps that Congress and the states must take to significantly reduce and eventually eliminate the tobacco epidemic:

  • Congress should enact legislation granting the U.S. Food and Drug Administration authority over tobacco products, including the authority to regulate the contents of tobacco products and to stop tobacco marketing that appeals to children and misleads consumers. With this legislation, Congress can crack down on some of the most harmful tobacco industry practices that have undermined efforts to reduce tobacco use. It is also imperative that Congress significantly increase the federal cigarette tax, as called for in pending legislation to fund the State Children’s Health Insurance Program.
  • State officials must redouble efforts to increase tobacco taxes, enact comprehensive smoke-free workplace laws and adequately fund programs to prevent kids from smoking and help smokers quit.

States that have implemented these measures have achieved far greater reductions in smoking than the nation as a whole. For example, Washington reduced adult smoking by nearly 11 percent between 2004 and 2006, from 19.2 to 17.1 percent, while New York achieved an 8.5 percent reduction, from 20 to 18.3 percent. New York City, with its comprehensive approach to fighting tobacco use, reduced adult smoking to 17.5 percent in 2006, and California, the nation’s tobacco control pioneer, has reduced adult smoking to 14.9 percent. It is clear that we know how to significantly reduce tobacco use and just need the political will to implement proven solutions at all levels of government.

According to the CDC report, several factors appear to have contributed to the recent stalling of progress:

  • Between 2002 and 2005, states cut funding for tobacco prevention and cessation programs by 28 percent. While funding has increased slightly since, only three states (Maine, Delaware and Colorado) funded tobacco prevention programs at CDC-recommended levels in Fiscal Year 2007. Most states fall far short of the CDC’s recommendations, and altogether, states’ funding of tobacco prevention amounts to less than three percent of the $22 billion they collect in annual revenue from the 1998 tobacco settlement and tobacco taxes.
  • While states cut funding for tobacco prevention, tobacco companies increased their marketing to record levels. Between 1998 (the year of the tobacco settlement) and 2005, annual cigarette marketing expenditures nearly doubled from $6.7 billion to $13.1 billion, according to the Federal Trade Commission.
  • Tobacco prices have also played a critical role. From 1997 to 2002, when youth and adult smoking rates declined significantly, the average retail price of a pack of cigarettes increased by 91 percent as a result of the tobacco settlement and cigarette tax increases. Since 2002, cigarette prices have barely increased, and smoking declines have subsequently stalled. Cigarette prices have been stable because the tobacco companies currently spend more than 80 percent of their marketing dollars on price discounts that counteract the effects of state cigarette tax increases. The tobacco companies have done this because they know that higher cigarette prices are one of the most effective ways to reduce smoking, especially among kids. That’s why it is imperative that Congress and the states counter this price discounting with significant cigarette tax increases.

Today’s CDC report is a warning that our nation cannot become complacent in the fight against tobacco. Tobacco use kills more than 400,000 Americans and costs the nation nearly $100 billion in health care bills each year. It is time at last for our nation’s leaders to combat the tobacco epidemic with a level of commitment and resources that matches the scope of the problem.

The results of the CDC’s annual adult smoking survey were published in this week’s issue of the CDC journal, Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

 

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