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New Survey Shows U.S. Youth Smoking Rates Fell to Record Lows in 2013

Statement of Susan M. Liss, Executive Director, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids
December 18, 2013

WASHINGTON, DC – In great news for the nation’s health, the government’s annual Monitoring the Future survey released today shows that overall youth smoking declined significantly in 2013, and smoking rates fell to record lows for all three grades surveyed (grades 8, 10 and 12). This is the third year in a row that this survey has found a significant annual decline in youth smoking, which is highly encouraging after several years in which progress had nearly stalled.

For all three grades combined, the percentage of students who reported smoking cigarettes in the past month fell from 10.6 percent in 2012 to 9.6 percent in 2013. Smoking declined from 17.1 to 16.3 percent among 12th graders, from 10.8 to 9.1 percent among 10th graders and from 4.9 to 4.5 percent among 8th graders. The declines were statistically significantly for 10th graders and for all three grades combined.

Longer-term declines are dramatic. Since peaking in the mid-1990s, smoking rates have fallen by 79 percent among 8th graders, 70 percent among 10th graders and 55 percent among 12th graders.

These results are 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.

As the nation nears the 50th anniversary of the first Surgeon General’s report on smoking and health, which was released on January 11, 1964, it is time for a national commitment to fully implement these solutions and win the fight against tobacco once and for all.

Despite our enormous progress, tobacco remains the number one cause of preventable death in the United States. Tobacco still kills more than 400,000 people and costs the nation nearly $100 billion in health care bills each year. Too many of our children still smoke, putting them on a path that often ends in debilitating diseases and premature death. The tobacco industry still spends $8.8 billion a year – $1 million every hour – to market its deadly and addictive products, and it is constantly pushing new products that tempt our kids, including sweet, cheap little cigars and electronic cigarettes that are being marketed using the same slick tactics long used to market regular cigarettes to kids.

By fully implementing what we know works, we can accelerate declines in tobacco use and ultimately eliminate the death and disease it causes. Winning the fight against tobacco will require bold action by the federal government and the states:

At the federal level:

  • The Food and Drug Administration must fully and effectively exercise its authority to regulate the manufacturing, marketing and sale of tobacco products. Most urgently, the FDA must issue its long-overdue rule asserting jurisdiction over all tobacco products, including cigars and e-cigarettes, to prevent these products from undermining efforts to reduce smoking

  • Congress should enact a significant increase in the federal tobacco tax, as President Obama proposed earlier this year

  • Media campaigns to reduce smoking must be continued and expanded, including the CDC’s Tips from Former Smokers campaign that has been highly successful at motivating smokers to quit and the FDA’s planned campaign to reduce youth smoking. The Obama Administration must also aggressively implement provisions of the Affordable Care Act that require insurance coverage for smoking cessation therapies.

The states must also do more:

  • Every state should fund tobacco prevention programs at levels recommended by the CDC. Currently, only two states (North Dakota and Alaska) do so, and most states woefully underfund such programs. The states this year will collect $25 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.

  • The states must step up the pace in enacting tobacco tax increases and smoke-free laws. Progress in enacting these proven measures has slowed in recent years.

Our continuing progress demonstrates that these solutions work. The University of Michigan researchers who conduct the survey point to the large 2009 increase in the federal cigarette tax as a likely factor in the renewed smoking declines. These declines also follow other important actions by the Obama Administration, including the 2009 law giving the FDA authority over tobacco products, which cracked down on tobacco marketing and sales to kids, and the CDC’s media campaign.

Our nation’s progress against tobacco is a remarkable public health success story. But we cannot declare victory until every child is tobacco-free and we have eliminated the death and disease caused by tobacco.

The Monitoring the Future 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.