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New CDC Study Finds Kids Are Seeing Fewer State Anti-Smoking TV Ads

Statement of Daniel McGoldrick Vice President, Research, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids
October 28, 2005

Washington, DC — A new study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) provides troubling evidence of the real-world impact of cutting funding for state tobacco prevention programs: Kids are being exposed to fewer state-sponsored television ads that discourage them from smoking. The decline in state spending on tobacco prevention has resulted in a dramatic and perhaps dangerous decline in the number of television ads sponsored by the states that discourage kids from smoking. The decline is having a measurable impact – it corresponds to a leveling off in smoking rates among our nation’s kids.

Well-funded state tobacco prevention programs, including TV ad campaigns, have proven highly effective at reducing youth smoking, cutting smoking rates by more than half in some states. But too few states have utilized their tobacco settlement and tobacco tax revenues to properly fund such programs, and states have cut funding for such programs by 28 percent, or $212 million, since 2002. The new study, published in the October 28 issue of the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR), found that kids’ exposure to state anti-smoking ads increased from 1999 to 2002, but declined in 2003. Other studies have found that youth smoking rates have barely declined since 2002 after falling dramatically for several years. If we are to continue reducing youth smoking and avoid a reversal of the progress we have made, governors and legislators must spend more of their tobacco money to protect kids from tobacco addiction.

The reduction in state-sponsored anti-tobacco ads is especially alarming because the tobacco companies are spending record amounts to market their deadly products, often in ways effective at reaching kids. Since agreeing to curtail some aspects of their marketing as part of the 1998 state tobacco settlement, the tobacco companies have more than doubled how much they actually spend to market cigarettes, from $6.7 billion in 1998 to $15.1 billion in 2003, according to the Federal Trade Commission’s most recent annual report on cigarette marketing. The bulk of cigarette marketing now consists of price discounts that have the greatest impact on kids, who have limited incomes and are the most price-sensitive customers.

In contrast to the $15.1 billion spent on cigarette marketing, all the states combined spent $674 million on tobacco prevention in 2003. That means the tobacco companies spent more than $22 to market their deadly products for every dollar the states spent to keep kids tobacco-free (states since have further cut tobacco prevention funding to $538 million in Fiscal 2005). The states’ failure to do more is inexcusable because there is overwhelming scientific evidence that tobacco prevention programs work and the states are collecting record amounts in tobacco revenue that can be used to fund programs to keep kids from smoking and help smokers quit. It would take just eight percent of the approximately $20 billion a year the states collect from the tobacco settlement and tobacco taxes for every state to fund tobacco prevention programs at minimum levels recommended by the CDC. Unfortunately, only three states – Maine, Delaware and Mississippi – funded their programs at such levels in Fiscal Year 2005, while 37 states and DC funded their programs at less than half the CDC minimum or provided no funding at all.

Tobacco use remains the nation’s leading preventable cause of death, killing more than 400,000 people every year and costing the nation more than $160 billion a year in health care costs and lost productivity. While our nation has reduced high school smoking rates by 40 percent since 1997, 22 percent of high school students still smoke, and another 1,500 kids become regular smokers every day. The evidence is clear that anti-tobacco advertising campaigns and other tobacco prevention measures work to reduce smoking, save lives and save money by reducing smoking-caused health care costs. What’s needed is the political will to enact these proven solutions.

The new study used Nielsen television ratings data to measure the exposure of 12-17 year olds to anti-tobacco advertising in the 75 largest media markets. The study found that exposure to anti-tobacco advertising among youth increased between 1999 and 2002, but declined in 2003. Between 1999 and 2002, monthly youth exposure to anti-tobacco ads increased from .04 exposures per month to .80 per month (1.0 equals exposure to one state-funded anti-tobacco advertisement per month). In 2003, however, exposure declined to .63 exposures per month.