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New CDC Study on Toll of Tobacco Shows Need to Hold Tobacco Companies Accountable and Enact Proven Measures to Reduce Tobacco Use

Statement of Matthew L. Myers President, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids
July 02, 2005

Washington, DC — A new study released today by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides a timely reminder of the devastating health and financial consequences of tobacco use in our country. It also shows why action to reduce tobacco use must remain an urgent public health priority. This study, which updates official government statistics regarding the toll of tobacco, finds that during 1997 to 2001, an estimated 438,000 persons in the U.S. died prematurely each year as a result of smoking and exposure to secondhand smoke, and smoking cost the nation about $92 billion a year in productivity losses. Tobacco use remains by far the nation's leading preventable cause of death and should be fought with the resources and political commitment commensurate with the toll it takes.

This study underscores the need to hold the tobacco companies legally accountable for the wrongful actions that cost us all so much in health, lives and money, as well as the need for elected officials at all levels to enact proven policies to reduce tobacco use. It also debunks the tobacco companies' claims that they have changed. How can this industry be reformed when its products and practices continue to kill more than 400,000 people every year, sicken millions more and cost our nation hundreds of billions a year (when tobacco-related health care costs are added to the productivity losses)?

Tobacco's continuing toll demands strong action, including the following:

o The U.S. Department of Justice should aggressively pursue its lawsuit against the tobacco companies free of political interference. The government should seek the strongest possible remedies to prevent and restrain industry wrongdoing, including the full 25-year, $130 billion smoking cessation program recommended by its expert witness. The Justice Department's decision not to pursue the full cessation remedy is inconsistent with this study and CDC Director Dr. Julie Gerberding's statement today that, “If we want to significantly reduce the toll in this decade, we must provide the 32 million smokers who say they want to quit with the tools and support to do so successfully.”

o Congress should enact pending legislation to grant the U.S. Food and Drug Administration effective authority over tobacco products.

o State and local governments should enact scientifically proven measures to reduce tobacco use and exposure to secondhand smoke, including comprehensive smoke-free workplace laws, higher tobacco taxes and well-funded, sustained tobacco prevention and cessation programs.

Our nation has made progress in reducing smoking in recent years, reducing high school smoking rates by 40 percent since 1997 and adult smoking rates by about 15 percent in the past decade. We know what works to prevent and reduce tobacco use. What's needed now is the political will for elected officials at all levels to enact these proven solutions.

The new study is being published in the July 1, 2005, issue of the CDC journal, Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR).