Jun. 26 2008
Washington, D.C. — The latest survey of high school smoking rates, released today by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), shows that while the nation has made remarkable progress in reducing youth smoking since 1997, rates of current smoking have been essentially stalled since 2003. This survey demonstrates that we know what works to reduce tobacco use and that elected officials at all levels, including Congress, must step up the fight against the nation's No. 1 killer by aggressively implementing proven solutions. Congress has an immediate opportunity to act by passing legislation to grant the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authority over tobacco products, which, among other things, would crack down on tobacco marketing and sales to youth.
The good news in the 2007 Youth Risk Behavior Survey is that the high school smoking rate declined by 45 percent between 1997 and 2007, from 36.4 percent to 20 percent. The high school smoking rate is now at the lowest level since this survey was first conducted in 1991. Smoking has declined significantly among both boys and girls and among all populations surveyed. Since 1997, smoking has declined by 42 percent among white students, 49 percent among African-American students and 51 percent among Hispanic students. In 2007, high school smoking rates were 23.2 percent for white students, 16.7 percent for Hispanic students and 11.6 percent for African-American students.
The dramatic decline in youth smoking since 1997 is powerful proof that scientifically proven measures, implemented primarily at the state and local level, are working. These include higher cigarette prices resulting from state cigarette tax increases and the 1998 state tobacco settlement; a growing number of state and local laws requiring smoke-free workplaces and public places; and effective, well-funded tobacco prevention programs run by the states and nationally by the American Legacy Foundation.
Thanks to these efforts, the country has made great progress over the last decade in reducing youth smoking. Unfortunately that decline has stalled in recent years. From 2003 to 2005, high school smoking rates rose by just over one percentage point, from 21.9 percent to 23 percent. While there was a small improvement from 2005 to 2007—rates declined to 20 percent last year—the reduction was not statistically significant.
This recent stall in progress coincides with aggressive efforts by tobacco companies to discount cigarette prices and undermine state cigarette tax increases, cuts in tobacco prevention programs, and huge increases in tobacco marketing:
The lack of greater progress in recent years is a clear warning to elected officials to resist complacency and redouble efforts to reduce tobacco use. We know how to win the fight against tobacco use, but we will not win it and our progress could even reverse without the political leadership to implement proven solutions. Last year, landmark reports by the Institute of Medicine and the President's Cancer Panel agreed on the steps that Congress and the states must take to win the fight against tobacco use:
Tobacco use kills more than 400,000 Americans and costs the nation nearly $100 billion in health care bills each year. While our nation has made remarkable progress in reducing smoking, political complacency and the tobacco companies' aggressive marketing threaten continued progress. Our challenge today is to summon the political will to combat the tobacco epidemic as aggressively as the tobacco companies continue to market their deadly and addictive products. If our nation's leaders do so, we can win the fight against the leading cause of preventable death in the United States.
The CDC survey can be found at www.cdc.gov/mmwr.