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New Survey Finds Youth Smoking Declines Have Slowed, Underscoring Need to Increase Prevention Spending, Curb Tobacco Marketing

Statement of William V. Corr Executive Director, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids
December 19, 2005

Washington, DC — The 2005 Monitoring the Future Survey released today by the National Institute on Drug Abuse sounds a clear warning to state and federal elected officials: Our nation's progress in reducing youth smoking is at risk unless they take more aggressive action to prevent kids from smoking and curb tobacco marketing. While youth smoking rates have declined significantly since peaking in the mid-1990s, the survey finds that over the past two years this progress has slowed considerably and may even have stalled. Over the past year, the survey found no statistically significant change in past-month smoking rates among eighth, tenth or twelfth graders, and youth smoking rates remain unacceptably high as more than 23 percent of high school seniors still smoke. This apparent stalling of progress is troubling news for our nation's health and appears to be a direct result of the fact that states have cut funding for tobacco prevention programs by more than a quarter since 2002, while tobacco companies have increased their marketing to record levels.

The new survey should be a wakeup call to elected leaders that we cannot take progress in reducing youth smoking for granted and must redouble efforts to implement proven measures to reduce tobacco use. At the state level, these include tobacco tax increases, increased funding for programs to prevent kids from smoking and help smokers quit, and smoke-free workplaces and public places. In addition, Congress must pass legislation granting the U.S. Food and Drug Administration authority over tobacco products, including the authority to crack down on marketing that impacts kids. The Justice Department should also stand firm against a weak settlement of its lawsuit against the tobacco companies, which holds great potential to stop price discounts and other forms of marketing that impact kids.

The good news in today's survey is that smoking rates have declined by 56 percent among eighth graders, 51 percent among tenth graders and 36 percent among twelfth graders since peaking in 1996 and 1997. However, the bulk of this decline occurred before 2003. From 2004 to 2005, the survey found no statistically significant change in smoking rates for any of the grade levels, although rates declined slightly for tenth and twelfth graders. The lack of decline among eighth graders is especially troubling because, as the University of Michigan researchers who conducted the survey note, eighth graders have been the bellwethers of smoking trends among teens. It is also troubling that the survey found a leveling off in the perceived risk and disapproval of smoking among some grades and a small, although not statistically significant, increase in smokeless tobacco use among tenth and twelfth graders from 2004 to 2005.

The last several years have seen two disturbing trends that have undermined efforts to reduce youth smoking: Deep cuts in state tobacco prevention funding and steep increases in tobacco marketing. From Fiscal Year 2002 to Fiscal Year 2006, states cut funding for tobacco prevention programs by 26.5 percent, or $199 million (total state tobacco prevention funding was cut from $749.7 million in FY2002 to $551 million in FY2006). Currently, only four states – Maine, Colorado, Delaware and Mississippi – fund tobacco prevention programs at minimum levels recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, while 35 states and the District of Columbia are funding prevention programs at less than half the CDC minimum or providing no funding at all. At the national level, the American Legacy Foundation had to reduce its successful truth® anti-smoking media campaign because most of its funding under the 1998 state tobacco settlement ended after 2003. The effects of these cutbacks are reflected in the survey, which found a decline among all three grade levels in recalled exposure to anti-smoking advertising over the past two years.

In contrast, the tobacco companies are spending record amounts to market their deadly and addictive products. Since promising to curtail their marketing as part of the 1998 settlement, the tobacco companies have in fact increased cigarette marketing expenditures by 125 percent to a record $15.1 billion, or $41.5 million a day, in 2003, the most recent year for which the Federal Trade Commission has reported cigarette marketing expenditures (expenditures have gone up every year since the settlement and are almost certainly much higher today). The tobacco companies spend at least $28 to market tobacco products for every $1 states spend on tobacco prevention. Since the settlement, the companies have shifted the bulk of their marketing to price discounts, which have their greatest impact on youth (the most-price sensitive customers) and undermine state efforts to reduce youth smoking by increasing tobacco taxes.

As the dramatic declines in youth smoking since the mid-1990s have shown, we know what works to reduce youth smoking. What's missing is the political will to aggressively implement these proven solutions. Despite the progress of recent years, elected officials at all levels must redouble tobacco prevention efforts because tobacco use remains the nation's number one preventable cause of death, killing more than 400,000 people and costing the nation more than $180 billion in health care bills and lost productivity every year. The tobacco companies must be held accountable for their marketing practices that addict our children and result in so much disease and death. But elected officials must be held accountable as well for not stopping the industry's harmful practices and for failing to implement the solutions we know work to prevent kids from smoking and save lives.