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Washington State’s Tobacco Prevention Efforts Are Delivering Historic Gains And Deserve Continued Strong Support

Statement of Matthew L. Myers President, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids
March 30, 2005

Washington, DC — Today’s announcement of historic declines in youth smoking in Washington is the direct result of Washington’s strong commitment to tobacco prevention and cessation. It is proof positive that Washington’s tobacco prevention program is protecting kids from tobacco addiction, saving lives and saving money by reducing smoking-caused health care costs. These results would not have happened without the vision and commitment of Governor Gregoire and state legislators who have championed tobacco prevention. We applaud them for their leadership. Their challenge now is to guard against complacency. In other states, we have seen progress come to a halt because tobacco prevention programs and policies were not sustained. Thus, it is critical that Washington’s leaders do what is necessary to ensure that the state’s tobacco prevention program is properly funded and sustained to protect every generation of children. They should increase the state cigarette tax and earmark enough of the new revenue to sustain the tobacco prevention program for years to come.

According to survey results released today by the Washington Department of Health (DOH), the state has reduced smoking by 57 percent among sixth graders, 49 percent among eighth graders, 48 percent among tenth graders, and 44 percent among twelfth graders (sixth and eighth grade declines are from 1998 to 2004, while tenth and twelfth grade declines are from 1999 to 2004). Compared to the nation as a whole:

  • Washington has achieved significantly greater declines in smoking among tenth and twelfth graders and about the same decline among eighth graders (national declines during the same time periods were 52 percent for eighth graders, 38 percent for tenth graders and 28 percent for twelfth graders, according to the federal government’s annual Monitoring the Future Survey, which does not track sixth grade smoking).
  • Current smoking rates among Washington’s eighth, tenth and twelfth graders are all significantly below the national average. Washington smoking rates are 7.8 percent for eighth graders, 13 percent for tenth graders and 19.7 percent for twelfth graders, compared to national rates of 9.2 percent, 16 percent and 25 percent respectively for the three age groups.

The DOH estimates that as a result of these smoking declines, there are now 65,000 fewer youth smokers in Washington. Based on estimates that smokers, on average, have $16,000 more in lifetime health care costs than non-smokers, the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids calculates that these youth smoking declines will save Washington more than $1 billion in long-term health care costs. Declines in adult smoking and future declines in youth smoking will save even more money. The math speaks for itself. By spending $27.2 million a year on tobacco prevention, as it does now, Washington is saving more than $1 billion in future health care costs. It is a return on investment that few, if any, other government programs can match.

The evidence is clear that tobacco prevention is one of the smartest and most fiscally responsible investments that Washington and other states can make. Tobacco prevention not only reduces smoking and saves lives; it is also part of the solution to the skyrocketing health care costs, especially under Medicaid, that are placing such a burden on state budgets. Tobacco costs Washington $1.8 billion a year in health care bills, including $599 million under Medicaid. The average Washington household pays $605 a year in taxes because of smoking-caused government expenditures. Businesses pay even more because of higher health insurance costs and lost productivity. Funding tobacco prevention is one of the most important steps Washington can take to bring down these costs.

Washington is succeeding because its voters in 2001 increased the cigarette tax by 60 cents, to $1.425 per pack, and, with a combination of tobacco settlement and tobacco tax revenues, it is one of the few states that are funding tobacco prevention and cessation programs at or near minimum levels recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Washington currently spends $27.2 million per year, which is 81.6 percent of the CDC minimum of $33.3 million, and ranks eighth among the states in funding tobacco prevention. Washington has also followed the CDC’s recommendations that its program include public awareness media campaigns, school and community-based education programs, enforcement of laws regarding tobacco sales to minors, and programs to help smokers quit.

Despite its success, Washington cannot afford to let up on its tobacco prevention efforts because the tobacco companies have not let up on their efforts to addict our children. In fact, the tobacco companies have increased their marketing expenditures by 85 percent since the 1998 state tobacco settlement. The tobacco companies now spend more than $163 million a year to market cigarettes and other tobacco products in Washington, amounting to six times what the state spends on tobacco prevention.

Today’s results show how much Washington’s tobacco prevention efforts can achieve, but these results should not be taken for granted. States that have cut funding for once successful tobacco prevention programs, including Florida, Massachusetts and Minnesota, have seen their progress stop and even reverse. Washington must not fall into that trap. Rather than standing pat or reversing course, Washington’s leaders should redouble their commitment to tobacco prevention and work to accelerate the gains that have been made. They should increase the state cigarette tax and dedicate enough of the new revenue to fund the tobacco prevention program at the minimum level of $33.3 million a year recommended by the CDC. It’s only right that some of the revenue from any cigarette tax increase be earmarked for programs to prevent kids from smoking and help smokers quit.

The dramatic declines in youth smoking show that Washington has developed the equivalent of a vaccine that protects kids from tobacco addiction and its deadly consequences. But like other vaccines, this vaccine must be administered to every generation of children. Otherwise, the tobacco epidemic will explode again in Washington, at great cost in health, lives and money. Now is the time for Washington to commit to protecting all its children by raising the cigarette tax and dedicating a small part of the revenue to permanently fund the state's tobacco prevention program.