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CDC Lists Tobacco Control in Ten Great Public Health Achievements of Past Decade, But U.S., States Must Step Up Fight to Keep Making Progress

Statement of Matthew L. Myers President, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids
May 19, 2011

WASHINGTON, DC — Progress in fighting tobacco use ranks among the 'ten great public health achievements' of the first decade of the 21st century, according to a report published today by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC’s report is powerful affirmation that we know how to win the fight against tobacco by implementing proven measures, including higher tobacco taxes, smoke-free air laws, well-funded tobacco prevention and cessation programs, and effective regulation of tobacco products and marketing.

But the report also sounds an urgent warning that the battle against tobacco is far from over and continued progress will require leadership, persistence and resources from elected officials at all levels. While the United States has cut adult smoking rates in half since the 1960s and youth smoking rates by nearly half since 1997, progress has slowed and even stalled in recent years. According to the CDC, 20.6 percent of adults and 19.5 percent of high school students still smoke. Tobacco use is still the nation’s number one cause of preventable death, killing more than 400,000 people and costing $193 billion in health care bills and lost productivity each year. All of these deaths and costs are entirely preventable.

It is no coincidence that progress against tobacco has slowed at the same time that states have slashed funding for tobacco prevention and cessation programs to the lowest level in more than a decade. States cut tobacco prevention funding by 28 percent, or nearly $200 million, in the past three years to the lowest level since 1999, when they first received payments from the settlement of lawsuits against tobacco companies – funds they promised to use to fight tobacco use. States have further cut prevention funding this year.

While states face budgetary challenges, there is no excuse for decimating tobacco prevention programs. The states collect more than $25 billion a year from the tobacco settlement and tobacco taxes – it would take less than 15 percent of this tobacco money to fund tobacco prevention programs in every state at CDC-recommended levels. The evidence is clear that prevention programs not only reduce smoking and save lives, but also save money by reducing tobacco-related health care costs. It is truly penny-wise and pound-foolish for states to cut these programs.

States must also continue to increase tobacco taxes and enact smoke-free laws. The tobacco companies know these measures reduce tobacco use, and they have redoubled efforts not only to defeat new measures, but to roll back those already in place. State leaders must side with the public interest over tobacco interests by moving forward with implementing these life-saving measures.

Leadership from the federal government is more important than ever. The Food and Drug Administration must continue to aggressively exercise its authority over tobacco products. And the Administration and Congress must fund and implement the national Tobacco Control Strategic Action Plan announced in November by Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, including a national media campaign to prevent kids from smoking and encourage smokers to quit.

With an aggressive effort at all levels of government, our nation can reinvigorate the fight against tobacco and achieve even greater gains in the coming decade. What we cannot do is stand still or risk backsliding in the fight against the nation’s leading preventable killer.

The report, published in the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, can be found at: