Dramatic Decline in Youth Smoking… | Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids
sign up

Dramatic Decline in Youth Smoking Shows Tobacco Prevention Measures Work and Should be Implemented Aggressively in Every State

Statement of William V. Corr, Executive Vice President Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids
December 16, 2002

WASHINGTON, DC (December 16, 2002) – The Monitoring the Future survey released today by the National Institute on Drug Abuse shows that we are making unprecedented progress in reducing youth smoking in the United States. After experiencing dramatic increases in youth smoking rates during the first half of the 1990s, we have turned the tide and today can celebrate the fact that smoking among high school seniors is at its lowest level in at least 27 years. This is terrific news for our nation’s health and powerful proof that solutions long advocated by the public health community are working, solutions like cigarette price increases, comprehensive tobacco prevention programs, and smoke-free workplace policies. This survey affirms that we know how to reduce tobacco use and the tremendous toll that it takes in health, lives and money. Now elected officials must have the political will to implement these solutions in every state and every community.

We must redouble our efforts because this battle is far from won. Tobacco use is still the leading preventable cause of death in our country. It is unacceptable that smoking still kills more than 400,000 Americans every year and more than a quarter of high school students still graduate as smokers. It is also troubling that we are turning into a nation of haves and have-nots with regard to tobacco prevention. The majority of states still have not implemented tobacco prevention programs or increased their cigarette taxes in recent years. And many states have cut or are considering cutting funding for tobacco prevention because of the budget crises they face. So we are at a critical juncture in our tobacco prevention efforts. If we keep aggressively implementing our proven solutions, we can accelerate the gains we have made and make them permanent. If we reduce our efforts, our progress can quickly be reversed and we will lose this opportunity to achieve one of the greatest public health victories in our nation’s history.

The new survey results show that since 1996 we have completely reversed the large increases in youth smoking rates that occurred during the first half of the 1990s. In fact, smoking rates among eighth, tenth and twelfth graders are all at the lowest levels ever recorded in the Monitoring the Future survey, which dates back to 1975 for twelfth graders and to 1991 for eighth and tenth graders. Among eight graders, 10.7 percent report having smoked in the past month, a decline of 12.3 percent in one year and 49 percent since rates peaked in 1996. Among tenth graders, 17.7 percent reported past month smoking, a decline of 16.9 percent in one year and 41.8 percent since 1996. Among twelfth graders, 26.7 reported past month smoking, a decline of 9.5 percent in one year and 26.8 percent since 1997.

These successes are the result of a comprehensive, science-based approach to reducing tobacco use. We have increased the price of tobacco products to make them less affordable to kids and spur adults to quit. We have implemented comprehensive tobacco prevention programs that tell kids the truth about the harm caused by tobacco use and the deceptive marketing of the tobacco industry. These programs reach kids in their schools and communities, as well as through aggressive advertising campaigns such as the American Legacy Foundation’s national truth campaign and similar campaigns in a growing number of states. We are improving access to smoking cessation therapies to help more smokers quit. And a growing number of states, cities, towns and counties are adopting comprehensive smoke-free workplace policies that not only protect non-smokers from the dangers of secondhand smoke, but also enhance success among smokers trying to quit. Perhaps most important, we have learned that while each of these measures is effective by itself, they are most successful when implemented together in a comprehensive approach. That is the conclusion reached by the CDC, the Surgeon General, and every other expert organization that has examined the problem. We also would not succeed without the policy research to help us identify effective solutions.

Because 20 states have increased cigarette taxes in the past year, states have more tobacco-generated revenue then ever before to fund tobacco prevention programs. States currently collect about $23 billion a year in tobacco-generated revenue, including $15 billion in tobacco taxes and $8 billion in tobacco settlement payments. To fund tobacco prevention programs at the minimum levels recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the states cumulatively would have to spend $1.6 billion a year, less than seven percent of their total tobacco revenue. Unfortunately, the states in Fiscal Year 2003 have appropriated only $640 million for tobacco prevention, 40 percent of the CDC recommendation and just 2.8 percent of their total tobacco revenue. Only five states are funding prevention programs at the minimum levels recommended by the CDC. So while we are making important progress, states can and should do much more.

The tobacco industry also remains a powerful counterforce to tobacco prevention efforts. Since promising in the 1998 state tobacco settlement to stop targeting kids, the tobacco companies have increased their marketing expenditures by 42 percent, according to the Federal Trade Commission. They spend $9.6 billion a year – $26 million a day – to market their deadly products, often in ways effective at enticing kids. The tobacco companies are also continuing to deceive the public about the harm caused by their products, rolling out new products with unproven claims of reduced risk. That is why Congress needs to pass legislation granting the U.S. Food and Drug Administration effective authority over tobacco products – to protect our kids from tobacco marketing and the public from continued industry deception.

We are making significant progress, but tobacco toll’s is still too high – 400,000 deaths a year; $75 billion a year in health care costs; and 2,000 more kids addicted every day, one-third of whom will die prematurely. Our solutions – comprehensive prevention programs, cigarette tax increases, and smoke-free policies – are the equivalent of a vaccine that is working to protect our kids from the addiction, disease and death caused by tobacco use. We have an obligation to provide this vaccine to every child in our country.