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Administration and Congress Should Quickly Enact Bold Plan Recommended by HHS Committee to Help Smokers Quit

Statement of William V. Corr Executive Vice President, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids
February 14, 2003

Washington, D.C. — We strongly endorse the bold plan to provide comprehensive smoking cessation assistance to all smokers who want to quit that was unanimously approved on Tuesday by the Interagency Committee on Smoking and Health of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The committee, which is chaired by Surgeon General Richard Carmona and prepared its plan at the direction of HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson, recommended increasing the federal cigarette tax by $2 per pack and using at least half the revenue for smoking cessation initiatives, including providing smoking cessation medication and counseling to all smokers who want them. We applaud Secretary Thompson for making smoking cessation a priority, and we urge the Administration and Congress to act quickly and aggressively to implement this plan. If they do so, it would represent an unprecedented national commitment to address the leading preventable cause of death and disease in our country. The committee estimates that its plan would prevent three million premature deaths and help five million smokers to quit.

The highly addictive nature of nicotine and the high cost of and lack of access to effective smoking cessation therapies are among the biggest obstacles to achieving the nation's Healthy People 2010 goal of reducing smoking rates from about 23 percent today to 12 percent by 2010. According to a study released last year by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 70 percent of adult smokers want to quit, but only 4.7 percent of those who tried to quit in the previous year were able to maintain smoking abstinence for three to twelve months. Most smokers want to quit, and this plan will provide them with the help they need.

The committee's plan is based on scientifically proven strategies, it is practical, it can be implemented immediately, and it is paid for. In addition to raising the revenue needed to fund the rest of the plan, increasing the cigarette tax is proven to be one of the most effective ways to prevent kids from starting to smoke and spur adults to quit. Studies show that every 10 percent increase in the cigarette tax will reduce overall cigarette consumption by three to five percent and youth smoking by seven percent. Increasing the cigarette tax is also an appropriate way to pay for initiatives to reduce the tremendous financial burden imposed on all taxpayers by tobacco use, which costs the nation more than $75 billion a year in health care expenditures and at least $80 billion a year in lost productivity. According to the CDC, each pack of cigarettes sold in the United States costs the nation an estimated $7.18 in health care costs and lost productivity. Currently, the federal cigarette tax is only 39 cents a pack and the average state cigarette tax is only 62 cents a pack. The tobacco companies are simply wrong and deceptive when they say the government already collects enough in tobacco revenue to pay for the tremendous costs of tobacco use.

The committee's plan dedicates much of the revenue generated by the cigarette tax increase to provide services that will directly benefit smokers. Its recommendations includes providing coverage for smoking cessation medication and counseling under federally-funded health care programs including Medicare and Medicaid, funding of a national quitline through which smokers could obtain cessation medication and counseling, the launch of an ongoing national media campaign to help smokers quit, and encouragement of private health insurers to provide coverage for smoking cessation therapies. The plan also calls for a substantial new investment in research to improve the effectiveness, reach and adoption of tobacco dependence treatment and improved training and education of clinicians so they can better help their patients to successfully quit tobacco. In sum, it will make smoking cessation therapies more effective, more accessible and more affordable. Lower income individuals and certain ethnic and racial minorities, who are often targets of the tobacco industry and have the highest tobacco use rates, will benefit the most.

President Bush and Secretary Thompson have rightly recognized that preventive medicine, including reducing tobacco use, is one of the most effective strategies for improving the health of the nation. President Bush, while announcing a health and fitness initiative last July, listed not smoking as one of four simple measures that would improve the health of Americans and stated, 'Tobacco use is the single most preventable cause of death and disease in America.' In fact, tobacco use kills more than 400,000 people in our country each year, and the HHS committee report notes that, of the 50 million smokers today, researchers estimate between 15 million and 25 million will die prematurely. The HHS committee's plan has presented the Administration with a tremendous opportunity to act on its stated commitment to preventive medicine. If the Administration seizes this opportunity, it can bring about immediate and long-term reductions in the terrible toll that tobacco use takes in health, lives and money.