Major NCI Report Concludes Tobacco Marketing Causes Kids to Smoke, Underscores Need for U.S. Senate to Pass FDA Tobacco Regulation This Year

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

Aug. 21 2008

Washington, D.C.   The comprehensive report released today by the National Cancer Institute provides the government's strongest conclusion to date that tobacco marketing causes kids to smoke and that anti-tobacco advertising campaigns prevent smoking. The 684-page report, The Role of the Media in Promoting and Reducing Tobacco Use, is an exhaustive review of more than 1,000 scientific studies and presents definitive conclusions that a) tobacco advertising and promotion are causally related to increased tobacco use, and b) exposure to depictions of smoking in the movies is causally related to youth smoking initiation. The report also concludes that mass media campaigns can reduce smoking, but so-called "youth smoking prevention campaigns" sponsored by the tobacco industry have been generally ineffective and may actually have increased youth smoking.

This report sends a loud and clear message to the nation's policy-makers: We need less tobacco company marketing and more anti-tobacco advertising. According to the most recent data, tobacco company marketing expenditures exceed state anti-tobacco efforts by a margin of more than 18 to one. In 2005, the tobacco industry spent $13.4 billion to market their deadly and addictive products in the U.S., according to the Federal Trade Commission. In comparison, states spent just $717 million on tobacco prevention programs last year.

The NCI report should spur urgent action by elected officials, as well as the entertainment industry, to curtail practices that encourage tobacco use and step up efforts that discourage tobacco use.

FDA regulation of tobacco products. Most immediately, Congress should enact pending legislation granting the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authority over tobacco products, which would impose specific restrictions on tobacco marketing that appeals to kids and give the FDA authority to further restrict tobacco marketing to the full extent allowed by the First Amendment.

On July 30, the U.S. House of Representatives voted 326-102 to approve this legislation. With 58 sponsors and several other senators who have committed to supporting the bill, the Senate has the votes to pass the bill when it returns in September. The Senate should seize on the momentum of the House vote and act this year to protect our children from the tobacco industry's predatory marketing practices.

This bipartisan legislation would grant the FDA broad authority to regulate the manufacturing, marketing and sale of tobacco products and impose specific restrictions on tobacco marketing that appeals to children. It would limit tobacco advertising in stores and in magazines with significant teen readership to black-and-white text only, eliminating the colorful images that depict smoking as cool and glamorous. It would ban outdoor tobacco advertising near schools and playgrounds, end tobacco sponsorships of sports and entertainment events, and require stores to place tobacco products behind the counter. Most important, it would give the FDA the authority to impose additional marketing restrictions and counter the tobacco companies' efforts to get around specific restrictions.

This legislation will also enhance state tobacco control efforts by giving states new authority to limit tobacco marketing. Currently, states are preempted by a 1965 federal law from regulating tobacco marketing. This legislation would allow states to regulate the time, place and manner of cigarette marketing, consistent with the First Amendment.

In addition to these marketing restrictions, this legislation would require tobacco companies to disclose the contents of their products, empower the FDA to require changes in products to make them less harmful and less addictive, ban candy and fruit-flavored cigarettes, require larger and more effective health warnings, ban misleading terms such as "light" and "low-tar," and strictly regulate health claims about tobacco products.

Tobacco prevention and cessation programs: Both the federal government and the states should increase funding for tobacco prevention and cessation programs, including mass media advertising campaigns. As the NCI report concludes, these campaigns are proven effective at preventing kids from smoking and encouraging smokers to quit. The report finds that advertising campaigns are especially effective when combined with community based programs and when part of a comprehensive approach to reducing tobacco use including higher tobacco taxes and smoke-free laws.

Unfortunately, federal policy makers have not provided significant funding for such programs, and most states are falling short despite collecting nearly $25 billion a year in revenue from the tobacco settlement and tobacco taxes. In the recently completed fiscal year 2008, only three states funded tobacco prevention and cessation programs at minimum levels recommended by the CDC. The states altogether spent just $717 million on these programs, which is less than three percent of the revenue they got from tobacco.

Global initiatives: The NCI report also provides important support for global efforts to reduce tobacco use. It provides powerful scientific evidence in support of the proven measures called for by the World Health Organization's international tobacco control treaty, the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. Among other things, the treaty obligates ratifying nations to ban all tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship or to restrict such tobacco marketing to the extent allowed by their constitutions. The treaty also calls on nations to fund public education campaigns. Worldwide, one billion people will lose their lives to tobacco in this century unless nations act now to implement proven solutions.

Smoking in movies. The NCI report should also serve as an impetus for stronger action to curtail youth exposure to smoking in movies, including an R-rating for all movies with non-historical depictions of smoking. The report finds conclusively that exposure to smoking in the movies is causally related to youth smoking initiation. It also finds that depictions of smoking in movies has increased in recent decades, even as smoking has declined in real life, and that depictions of smoking occurred in three-quarters of contemporary box-office hits. This is a serious public health concern and requires stronger action than has been taken to date by the Motion Picture Association of America.

Tobacco use is the leading preventable cause of death in the United States. It kills more than 400,000 people and costs the nation nearly $100 billion in health care bills each year. Nearly 90 percent of smokers began while in their teens, and 4000 kids try their first cigarette every day. Another 1,000 kids become regular smokers each day, and one-third of them will die a premature death as a result. The NCI report makes it clear that tobacco marketing is a major cause of the problem and should spur elected officials to take action to protect our children and our nation's health.