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New CDC Survey Finds First Increase in High School Smoking Since 1997; Cuts to Prevention Programs, Increase in Tobacco Marketing Appear Responsible

Statement of William V. Corr Executive Director, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids
June 08, 2006

Washington,DC — In a troubling development that should spur elected officials to redouble efforts to protect America’s kids from tobacco, the 2005 Youth Risk Behavior Survey released today by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) finds the first increase in the nation’s high school smoking rate since 1997. The new survey finds that the percentage of high school students reporting that they have smoked cigarettes in the past month increased to 23 percent in 2005 from 21.9 percent in 2003. This increase follows a 40 percent decline in high school smoking between 1997, when rates peaked at 36.4 percent, and 2003.

While the increase from 2003 to 2005 is small and, according to the CDC, not statistically significant, it is consistent with the findings of other recent surveys that found youth smoking declines have stalled or slowed considerably in recent years. The new survey also found increases in past-month use of any tobacco product, from 27.5 percent to 28.4 percent, and of smokeless tobacco, from 6.7 percent to 8 percent (the increase in smokeless tobacco use by high school boys was especially large, from 11 percent to 13.6 percent).

The disturbing trends in youth tobacco use appear to have two primary causes: Since 2002, the states have cut funding for tobacco prevention programs by more than a quarter, while the tobacco companies have increased their marketing to a record $15.4 billion a year. The tobacco companies currently spend more than $28 to market their deadly and addictive products for every $1 the states spend on tobacco prevention. More than 75 percent of tobacco marketing is now spent on price discounts, which have the greatest impact on youth, the most price-sensitive customers, and undermine state efforts to reduce tobacco use by increasing tobacco taxes.

The survey results sound a clear warning to elected leaders: While we know how to reduce youth smoking, we cannot take further progress for granted and must redouble efforts to implement proven tobacco prevention measures and curb tobacco marketing. At the state level, these measures include increased funding for programs to prevent kids from smoking and help smokers quit, tobacco tax increases and laws requiring smoke-free workplaces and public places. The evidence is clear that these measures work to reduce smoking among both youth and adults, but they have been undermined by cuts in funding for state tobacco prevention programs and the increase in tobacco marketing. 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 new survey results follow several years of 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). At the national level, the American Legacy Foundation has also had to reduce its successful truth® anti-smoking media campaign because most of its funding under the 1998 state tobacco settlement ended after 2003.

Currently, only four states - Maine, Colorado, Delaware and Mississippi - fund tobacco prevention programs at minimum levels recommended by the CDC, 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 (future funding for Mississippi’s program is at risk because of opposition from Governor Haley Barbour and a recent court ruling). The states lack excuses for their failure to do better because they collect more than $21 billion a year in revenue from the tobacco settlement and tobacco taxes, less than eight percent of which would be enough to fund tobacco prevention programs in every state at CDC-recommended levels.

In contrast, the tobacco companies are spending record amounts on marketing. Since promising to curtail their marketing as part of the 1998 settlement, the tobacco companies have 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 (total tobacco marketing tops $15.4 billion when smokeless tobacco marketing is included). Since the settlement, the companies have shifted the bulk of their marketing to price discounts.

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. We know what works to reduce smoking among both youth and adults. What’s needed is the political will to aggressively implement these proven solutions.