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Report Showing Reduction in Youth Smoking Is Good News, But Lack of Sustained Progress Among Young Students is a Cause for Serious Concern

Statement of William V. Corr, Executive Director Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids
December 20, 2003

Washington, DC — The data released today by the National Institute on Drug Abuse show that, while we continue to make important progress in reducing youth smoking, this progress shows disturbing signs of slowing among 8th and 10th graders. The good news is that smoking among twelfth graders has declined by eight percent in the past year and by 33 percent since 1997. Although smoking rates have dropped by 51 percent and 45 percent, respectively among eighth and tenth graders since 1996, the 2003 results show that progress among eighth and tenth graders has almost come to a complete stop.

Trends among smoking rates show up first among the youngest students. The fact that so little progress was made among 8th and 10th graders last year is a cause for serious concern that the lack of federal leadership on tobacco prevention and recent devastating cuts to state tobacco prevention and cessation programs are already having an impact. Despite receiving record amounts of revenue from the November 1998 tobacco settlement and tobacco taxes, states have cut over $200 million in the last two years from the very tobacco prevention programs that have helped produce record declines in smoking among kids. In the past two years, states have cut funding for their tobacco prevention programs by more than a quarter, and several states have completely eviscerated some of the most successful and promising tobacco prevention programs in history. Only four states - Maine, Delaware, Mississippi and Arkansas - currently fund tobacco prevention and cessation programs at minimum levels recommended by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). It would take less than 10 percent of the revenue states generate from the settlement and tobacco taxes to fund tobacco prevention at the CDC minimum in every state in the country. Nonetheless, thirty-eight states and the District of Columbia fund tobacco prevention programs at less than half the CDC's minimum level or provide no state funding at all.

While tobacco prevention programs are being cut, the major tobacco companies increased their marketing and promotional expenditures to a record $11.22 billion - $31 million a day - in 2001, according to the most recent Federal Trade Commission report on cigarette marketing and sales. This amounts to roughly $20 for every dollar the states are spending on tobacco prevention. This represents a 66.6 percent increase in the first three years after the tobacco companies agreed to curtail some aspects of their marketing as part of the tobacco settlement with the states.

The declines in youth smoking since the dramatic increases in the mid 1990’s mean a healthier future for today’s children, but this battle is far from won. It is unacceptable that nearly a quarter of high schools seniors still smoke, and it is imperative that every generation of kids is protected from the marketing practices of the tobacco companies. Tobacco use remains the nation's leading preventable cause of death and disease in this country, killing over 400,000 Americans every year. Only by implementing proven solutions, like comprehensive tobacco prevention and cessation programs, increased cigarette taxes, and smoke-free workplaces will we effectively reduce tobacco use, save lives, and save tobacco-caused health care costs.