Sep. 9 2008
Washington, D.C. — A new survey of youth tobacco use in Virginia shows that the state has made great progress in keeping kids from smoking, underscoring once again that tobacco prevention is a smart investment for Virginia's physical and financial health. The Youth Tobacco Survey found a dramatic 28.6 percent decline in high school smoking over two years — with 15.5 percent of Virginia high school students smoking in 2007, compared with 21.7 percent in 2005. By preventing kids from ever starting to smoke, Virginia can look forward to saving lives by preventing premature, smoking-caused deaths and to saving money by reducing smoking-caused health care costs, which total more than $2 billion a year in Virginia.
This is remarkable progress in a short period of time. We applaud Governor Kaine, the Legislature and the Virginia Tobacco Settlement Foundation for their commitment to reducing the devastating toll of tobacco use by investing in youth tobacco prevention efforts. Virginia's challenge now is to build upon its progress by increasing funding for youth tobacco prevention while also investing in cessation programs to help adult smokers quit.
While the survey results represent remarkable progress, there is still much to be done in Virginia to reduce tobacco use — the number one preventable cause of death in the state and across the nation. Currently, Virginia spends $14.5 million a year on tobacco prevention and cessation, well short of the $103.2 million recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (the CDC updated its recommendations for state spending in 2007). Virginia receives $320 million a year in revenue from the tobacco settlement and tobacco taxes and can achieve even greater smoking reductions by spending more of its tobacco revenue on tobacco prevention and cessation programs.
In addition to continuing to increase funding for tobacco prevention and cessation programs, Virginia's leaders should also raise the state cigarette tax and adopt a strong, statewide smoke-free law that applies to all workplaces and public places. States that have adopted this "trifecta" of tobacco prevention solutions have had the greatest success at reducing smoking and exposure to secondhand smoke. Currently, Virginia's 30-cent cigarette tax is among the lowest in the nation, ranking 47th among the states.
Today's survey results show how much the Virginia Tobacco Settlement Foundation can achieve, but these results should not be taken for granted. Investing in tobacco prevention and cessation programs is even more important when you consider that the tobacco companies are spending record amounts to market their deadly and addictive products, often in ways that appeal to children. With the tobacco companies spending more than $438 million a year on marketing in Virginia alone, it is imperative that Virginia leaders continue to fund programs that we know work to prevent kids from smoking and help smokers quit.