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National Survey Shows Youth Cigarette Smoking Again Falls to Record Low, but E-Cigarettes and Cigars Threaten Progress

Statement of Matthew L. Myers, President, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids
December 16, 2015

WASHINGTON, DC – In terrific news for the nation’s health, the government-sponsored Monitoring the Future survey released today shows that the steep, decades-long decline in youth cigarette smoking continues, with smoking rates falling to record lows in 2015 among all three grades surveyed (grades 8, 10 and 12). Cigarette use among 12th graders fell to just 11.4 percent from 13.6 percent last year and 36.5 percent in 1997, representing extraordinary and historic progress.

However, the survey also contains fresh warning signs that other tobacco products – electronic cigarettes and cigars that are sold in an array of sweet, kid-friendly flavors – may be undermining these gains and luring kids into nicotine addiction. For the second year in a row, the survey finds that significantly more teens reported using e-cigarettes than regular cigarettes in the past 30 days. In addition, teens reported using flavored little cigars at the same rate as cigarettes, and the percentage of teens who smoked tobacco in the past 30 days increased by more than half when cigarillos are included with regular cigarettes.

These findings should spur the White House to quickly issue a long-overdue rule providing for Food and Drug Administration regulation of all tobacco products, including e-cigarettes and cigars. It has been nearly 20 months since the FDA issued its proposed rule and nearly two months since the FDA sent the final rule to the White House for review. We cannot afford further delays that allow the tobacco industry to continue targeting our kids with a new generation of tobacco products. In addition, Congress must let the FDA do its job and reject proposals to weaken the FDA’s authority over e-cigarettes, cigars or any tobacco product.

The continuing decline in youth cigarette smoking is unquestionably good news that will improve the nation’s health and save lives:

  • For all three grades combined, the percentage of students who reporting smoking cigarettes in the prior 30 days fell from 8 percent in 2014 to 7 percent in 2015 – a statistically significant drop. Past-month smoking fell to 3.6 percent among 8th graders, 6.3 percent among 10th graders and 11.4 percent among 12th graders, all record lows.
  • Long-term trends are especially dramatic. Since peaking around 1996-1997, smoking rates have fallen by 83 percent among 8th graders, 79 percent among 10th graders and 69 percent among 12th graders. Daily cigarette use has fallen even more steeply, with just 5.5 percent of 12th graders reporting daily smoking in 2015.

These results demonstrate that we know how to win the fight against tobacco by implementing science-based strategies. These include higher tobacco taxes, strong smoke-free laws, well-funded tobacco prevention and cessation programs that include mass media campaigns, increasing the tobacco sale age to 21 and effective FDA regulation of tobacco products. Progress has accelerated following the largest-ever increase in the federal cigarette tax (a 62-cent increase implemented in 2009) and unprecedented national media campaigns launched by the CDC, the FDA and Truth Initiative. Rather than breeding complacency, our progress should spur elected officials to step up these proven measures and end the tobacco epidemic for good.

The survey’s findings on e-cigarettes and cigars are deeply troubling:

  • In all three grades, e-cigarette use far exceeded regular cigarette use in the past 30 days – 9.5 percent to 3.6 percent among 8th graders, 14 percent to 6.3 percent among 10th graders and 16.2 percent to 11.4 percent among 12th graders. These results also indicate e-cigarettes are more likely to be a pathway to tobacco addiction than away from it. More than half of students said their primary reasons for using e-cigarettes was to experiment and more than 30 percent said it was because they tasted good, while less than 10 percent said they used e-cigarettes to help quit regular cigarettes.
  • Teens reported smoking flavored little cigars at the same rate as cigarettes, with 11.4 percent of 12th graders reporting use of flavored little cigars in the past 30 days. When both cigarettes and flavored cigarillos are included, smoking rates in the past 30 days increased to 6.6 percent among 8th graders, 9.8 percent among 10th graders and 17.8 percent among 12th graders.

These findings are not surprising given the irresponsible marketing of e-cigarettes and cigars in a wide variety of kid-friendly flavors, such as gummy bear, cotton candy and watermelon. E-cigarette makers have marketed their products with the same tactics long used to market regular cigarettes to kids, including celebrity endorsements, slick TV and magazine ads, and sponsorships of race cars and concerts.

Despite our progress, we cannot let up in the fight against tobacco because the tobacco industry never lets up. The industry spends $9.6 billion a year – more than $1 million every hour – to market its deadly products, and it is constantly seeking innovative ways to entice our kids. It’s no wonder tobacco use is still the number one cause of preventable death in our country, killing more than 480,000 people and costing about $170 billion in health care expenses each year. We cannot win the fight against tobacco unless elected officials put our nation’s kids and health before the special interests of the tobacco industry.

The Monitoring the Future survey has been conducted annually since 1975 by researchers at the University of Michigan and is funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse.