CDC Reports Drop in Adult Smoking, But Death Toll and Health Costs Are Still Growing; Congress, States Should Implement Proven Solutions

Statement of Matthew L. Myers, President, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids

Nov. 13 2008

Washington, DC — Two new reports released today by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) show that the adult smoking rate in the United States has declined to under 20 percent for the first time, but smoking rates are not declining fast enough to reduce tobacco's growing toll in lives and health care costs. These reports confirm that we know how to reduce tobacco use, but elected officials at all levels must resist complacency and step up the fight against the nation's number one cause of preventable death. It is especially critical that the incoming Administration and Congress provide long-missing national leadership by enacting legislation granting the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authority over tobacco products.

The good news from the first CDC report is that the adult smoking rate declined to 19.8 percent in 2007 from 20.8 percent in 2006. This is the first statistically significant one-year decline in adult smoking since 2003, but it still leaves the nation far short of achieving the U.S. Surgeon General's national goal of reducing adult smoking to 12 percent or less by 2010.

The bad news from the second CDC report is that smoking rates are not declining fast enough to reduce the devastating health and financial toll of smoking in the United States. This report, which updates official government statistics regarding the toll of cigarette smoking, found that from 2000 to 2004, at least 443,000 people in the U.S. died prematurely each year as a result of smoking and exposure to secondhand smoke, an increase from 438,000 deaths annually for 1997-2001. This report also found that smoking costs the nation $193 billion per year in health care expenditures and productivity losses, up from a previous estimate of $167 billion. The new total includes $96 billion in health care costs and $96.8 billion in productivity losses. This report also found that smoking results in an astounding 5.1 million years of potential life lost in the U.S. each year.

These reports were published in the November, 14, 2008, issue of the CDC journal Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR).

These new reports follow an earlier CDC report that found the smoking rate among high school students — 20 percent in 2007 — has not declined significantly since 2003, following a 40 percent decline between 1997 and 2003.

The lack of greater progress in reducing smoking is troubling and inexcusable given the overwhelming scientific evidence of what works 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 at all levels of government. Recent landmark reports by the Institute of Medicine (IOM) and the President's Cancer Panel agreed on the proven, science-based measures that Congress and the states must take:

  • At the federal level, Congress should enact the long-overdue legislation granting the FDA authority over tobacco products. The U.S. House of Representatives on July 30 voted 326 to 102 to approve this legislation, and it currently has 60 sponsors in the Senate, including President-elect Barack Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. This legislation presents the incoming Administration and Congress with the opportunity for an early, bipartisan victory that would significantly improve the nation's health. Among other things, this legislation would crack down on tobacco marketing and sales to kids; require larger, more effective health warnings on tobacco products; require tobacco companies to disclose the contents of tobacco products; grant the FDA authority to regulate the contents of tobacco products; and stop tobacco companies from making misleading or unproven health claims.
  • Congress should also significantly increase the federal tobacco tax and utilize some of the revenue to fund a national public education and smoking cessation campaign. The report's finding that fewer adults are trying to quit smoking makes critical that we undertake efforts to encourage them to do so and help them succeed.
  • The states must redouble efforts to increase tobacco taxes, enact comprehensive smoke-free workplace laws and fund tobacco prevention and cessation programs at CDC-recommended levels. Most states have failed to fund these programs at recommended levels and spend only about three percent of the billions of dollars they collect each year from the tobacco settlement and tobacco taxes on tobacco prevention and cessation. The states are spending $718.1 million this year on tobacco prevention programs, which is 269 times less than the health care and productivity costs of smoking.

Reductions in adult smoking have been largely the result of efforts at the state and local level, including higher tobacco taxes, a growing number of smoke-free laws and well-funded tobacco prevention and cessation programs in some states. The few states and localities that have implemented a comprehensive strategy that includes all three measures have been especially successful. For example, Washington state and New York City have reduced adult smoking rates to 16.5 percent and 16.9 percent respectively, well below the national rate.

While continued state and local efforts are critical, the IOM report concluded that the states alone cannot solve the tobacco problem. The federal government, which has largely been absent from the fight to reduce tobacco use, must provide essential leadership, starting with granting the FDA authority over tobacco products. According to the IOM, a combined and more aggressive state-federal effort can achieve an ambitious, but attainable goal for the nation: "To reduce tobacco use so substantially that it is no longer a significant public health problem."

The two new CDC reports can be found at www.cdc.gov/mmwr.

 

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