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New Survey Shows U.S. Youth Smoking Rates Fell to Record Lows in 2012

Elected Leaders Must Step Up Fight to Accelerate Gains
December 19, 2012

Statement of Susan M. Liss, Executive Director, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids

WASHINGTON, DC — In great news for the nation's health, the Monitoring the Future survey released today shows that youth smoking declined significantly in 2012, and smoking rates fell to record lows for all three grades surveyed — grades 8, 10 and 12. This is the second year in a row that this survey has found a significant annual decline in youth smoking. It is especially encouraging that youth smoking is falling again following several years in which progress had nearly stalled.

The survey is released annually by the National Institute on Drug Abuse and conducted by researchers at the University of Michigan's Institute for Social Research.

Key findings of the survey include:

  • For all three grades combined, the percentage who said they smoked any cigarettes in the prior 30 days fell from 11.7 percent in 2011 to 10.6 percent in 2012.
  • From 2011 to 2012, smoking rates fell from 6.1 percent to 4.9 percent among 8th graders (a statistically significant decrease), from 11.8 percent to 10.8 percent among 10th graders, and from 18.7 percent to 17.1 percent among 12th graders. All three are record lows in the 38 years this survey has been conducted.
  • Longer-term declines are even more heartening. Since youth smoking peaked in the mid-1990s, smoking rates have fallen by about three-fourths among 8th graders, two-thirds among 10th graders and half among 12th graders. Among 12th graders, the smoking rate has declined from a peak of 36.5 percent in 1997 to 17.1 percent in 2012.

This progress is a remarkable public health success story and will lead to a healthier future with fewer deaths, disease and medical costs caused by tobacco use, the nation's number one cause of preventable death. These results are also powerful evidence that we know how to win the fight against tobacco by implementing scientifically proven strategies. These include higher tobacco taxes, well-funded tobacco prevention and cessation programs that include mass media campaigns, strong smoke-free laws, and effective regulation of tobacco products and marketing.

If elected officials at all levels aggressively implement these measures, today's survey results show that it is within our reach to create a tobacco-free generation. But progress could stall and even reverse – as has happened before — without a strong, sustained commitment by national and state leaders to win this fight.

The University of Michigan researchers who conducted the survey point to the large 2009 increase in the federal cigarette tax, a 62-cent per pack hike, as a likely key factor in the renewed smoking declines.

The cigarette tax increase is one of several strong actions the Obama Administration has taken to reinvigorate the fight against tobacco. In 2009, President Obama signed the landmark law granting the Food and Drug Administration authority over tobacco products, which imposed new restrictions on tobacco marketing and sales to kids. In March of this year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) launched an unprecedented media campaign aimed at encouraging smokers to quit and preventing kids from starting to smoke. The health care reform law expanded coverage for tobacco cessation treatments and created a Prevention and Public Health Fund that is providing critical support for tobacco prevention and cessation efforts. The new survey indicates that these actions are having an impact.

To keep making progress, the Administration must build on these accomplishments. Priorities include effective implementation of the FDA's authority, ensuring that insurers provide the cessation coverage required by the health reform law, preserving the prevention fund and expanding the CDC's media campaign.

It is critical that the states step up their efforts, which have lagged in recent years. The states must restore funding for tobacco prevention programs that have been slashed by 36 percent (nearly $260 million) since 2008. The states this year are collecting a record $25.7 billion from the tobacco settlement and tobacco taxes, but are spending less than two percent of it to fight tobacco use. This is shameful and must improve. States must also step up the pace in enacting tobacco tax increases and smoke-free laws.

Despite our tremendous progress, the battle against tobacco is far from over. We cannot be satisfied when 17 percent of high school seniors still graduate as smokers, putting them at risk for debilitating diseases and premature death. We cannot let our guard down when the tobacco industry still spends $8.5 billion a year — nearly $1 million every hour — to market its deadly and addictive products and is pushing new products, including new forms of smokeless tobacco and flavored 'little cigars,' that entice youth. We cannot be complacent when tobacco still kills more than 400,000 people and costs the nation nearly $100 billion in health care bills each year.

We cannot declare victory until every child is tobacco-free and we have eliminated the death and disease caused by tobacco.

The tobacco-related findings of the 2012 Monitoring the Future survey can be found at