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Report Shows Reductions in Youth Smoking Slow Close to a Stand Still

Statement of William V. Corr, Executive Director Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids
December 21, 2004

Washington, DC — The data released today by the National Institute on Drug Abuse show that, while we continue to make slight progress in reducing youth smoking, this progress has slowed to a crawl. Although smoking rates have dropped by 46 percent and 31 percent, respectively, among tenth and twelfth graders since 1997, the 2004 results show that progress among tenth graders has nearly stopped and that progress among twelfth graders has actually reversed slightly. The good news is that smoking among eighth graders has declined by ten percent in the past year and by 52 percent since 1997.

Despite receiving record amounts of revenue from the November 1998 tobacco settlement and tobacco taxes, states have cut funding for their tobacco prevention programs in the last three years by $210.8 million, and several states, notably Florida and Massachusetts, have completely eviscerated some of the most successful and promising tobacco prevention programs in history. Only three states - Maine, Delaware and Mississippi - currently fund tobacco prevention and cessation programs at minimum levels recommended by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). And, just last week, the Governor of Mississippi launched a campaign to eliminate funding for that state’s effective program, the Partnership for a Healthy Mississippi. It would take just 8 percent of the revenue states receive from the settlement and tobacco taxes to fund tobacco prevention at the CDC’s recommended minimum in every state in the country. Nonetheless, thirty-seven 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.

Also in 2004, while youth smoking rate reductions were stalling, a small number of House Republican leaders blocked progress of a bipartisan effort to grant the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) the authority to regulate the manufacture, marketing and sales of tobacco products in the U.S. The many ways in which this regulation would have dramatically helped tobacco prevention efforts include: restricting advertising and promotions that appeal to children; stopping illegal sales of tobacco products to children; requiring changes in tobacco products, such as the reduction or elimination of harmful chemicals, to make them less harmful or less addictive; and requiring larger and more informative health warnings on tobacco products.

While tobacco prevention programs are being cut, the major cigarette companies have increased their marketing and promotional expenditures to a record $12.5 billion – $34.2 million a day – in 2002, according to the most recent Federal Trade Commission report on cigarette marketing and sales. The tobacco companies spend more than $23 to market cigarettes and other tobacco products for every dollar the states spend on tobacco prevention. This represents an 85 percent increase in the first four 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.