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CDC Reports Adult Smoking Fell to Record Low in 2014 – Bold Action Needed to Address Disparities and Finish the Job

Statement of Matthew L. Myers, President, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids
November 12, 2015

WASHINGTON, DC — The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported today that the adult smoking rate in the United States fell to a record low 16.8 percent in 2014, down from 17.8 percent in 2013. The smoking rate has declined by nearly 20 percent since 2005 (when 20.9 percent smoked) and by a remarkable 60 percent since 1965 (when 42.4 percent smoked).

However, the CDC also reported large disparities in smoking, with higher rates among people who live below the poverty level; those with less education; American Indians/Alaska Natives; residents of the Midwest; and lesbians/gays/bisexuals. Adults who are uninsured or on Medicaid smoke at more than double the rates of those with private health insurance or Medicare.

It is good news for our nation’s health that smoking continues to decline, but there is much work to do to finish the job and protect all Americans from the number one cause of preventable death. It is not acceptable that tobacco use still kills nearly half a million Americans and costs us about $170 billion in health care expenses each year. It is also unacceptable that we have become a nation of haves and have-nots in combatting tobacco use, with some populations and communities lagging behind and suffering higher burdens of tobacco-related death and disease as a result.

Our tremendous progress shows that we know how to win the fight against tobacco. Proven solutions must be fully implemented across the nation, including higher tobacco taxes, strong smoke-free laws, well-funded tobacco prevention and cessation programs that include mass media campaigns, and comprehensive, barrier-free health insurance coverage for smoking cessation treatments. After stalling in the mid-2000s, adult and youth smoking rates began declining again after the federal cigarette tax was increased by 62 cents in 2009. Significant additional increases in federal and state cigarette taxes can further drive down smoking rates.

It’s also critical that the CDC, the Food and Drug Administration and Truth Initiative continue the unprecedented mass media campaigns they have launched in recent years. Congress must reject a proposal in a House appropriations bill that would cut funding for the CDC’s tobacco prevention and cessation programs in half, which would likely eliminate the CDC’s successful and cost-effective Tips from Former Smokers campaign.

To accelerate progress, the FDA must also fully exercise its authority to regulate tobacco products under a 2009 law. The White House should quickly issue a final rule extending the FDA’s authority to all tobacco products, including electronic cigarettes and cigars, so the FDA can prevent the marketing and sale of these products to kids, including candy and fruit-flavored e-cigarettes that studies show are being used in large numbers by kids. FDA oversight is also needed to determine whether e-cigarettes can play a constructive role in helping more smokers give up cigarettes completely. The FDA must also require large, graphic cigarette warnings that comply with the 2009 law and develop the first-ever product standards to make cigarettes less addictive and less harmful.

The CDC’s report should spur states to expand Medicaid coverage for smoking cessation treatments as 29.1 percent of Medicaid recipients smoke. According to another recent CDC reports, although all 50 state Medicaid programs cover some tobacco cessation treatments, only nine states cover individual and group counseling and all seven FDA-approved cessation medications for all enrollees. Medicaid coverage for cessation treatments is both good health and good fiscal policy. Studies have shown that after Massachusetts provided comprehensive Medicaid coverage for smoking cessation treatments in 2006, the state dramatically reduced smoking and hospitalizations for heart attacks and coronary heart disease among Medicaid recipients, saving more than $3 for every $1 spent on cessation services.

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 and addictive products, and it opposes proven tobacco control measures every step of the way. Elected officials at all levels must be bold and unrelenting in working to end the tobacco epidemic for good.