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CDC Director Issues Bold Call to Action on Tobacco; Elected Leaders Should Step Up Efforts to Implement Proven Solutions

Statement of Matthew L. Myers, President, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids
April 22, 2010

Washington, D.C. — The Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Thomas R. Frieden, today has issued a bold call to step up the fight against tobacco use and get smoking rates declining again after several years of stalled progress. Dr. Frieden’s call to action and a new CDC report issued today leave no doubt that we know how to win the fight against tobacco use. The challenge today is for elected officials at all levels to resist complacency and redouble efforts to implement scientifically proven strategies.

There is no question that we know how to significantly reduce tobacco use, as demonstrated by sharp reductions in adult smoking over the past several decades and a remarkable 45 percent reduction in high school smoking since 1997. However, smoking declines have slowed and even stalled in recent years. According to the most recent CDC data, 20.6 percent of adults and 20 percent of high school students still smoke. Tobacco use remains the nation’s number one cause of preventable death, killing more than 400,000 Americans and costing the nation $96 billion in health care bills each year.

Dr. Frieden and the new CDC report, Tobacco Control State Highlights 2010, have provided a timely reminder that it premature to declare victory in the fight against tobacco. Instead, elected officials must accelerate efforts to implement proven solutions. The states should increase tobacco taxes, enact strong smoke-free workplace laws and use the billions of dollars they receive each year in tobacco revenues to adequately fund tobacco prevention and cessation programs. States have had the greatest success in reducing tobacco use when they have implemented all of these measures as part of a comprehensive strategy.

At the federal level, the FDA must continue to effectively implement its new authority to regulate tobacco products and marketing. In addition, Congress and the Administration should make funding for tobacco prevention and cessation a priority as they implement the new health care reform law. The law expands coverage for smoking cessation therapies under Medicaid and private health plans and also creates a Prevention and Public Health Fund to finance proven, community-based prevention programs, with funding of $7 billion over the first six years and $2 billion annually thereafter. It is critical that a significant portion of these funds be used for tobacco prevention and cessation programs, especially as cash-strapped states significantly reduce funding for their programs.

As the CDC report indicates, the United States in many ways has become a nation of haves and have-nots when it comes to the fight against tobacco. While some states have implemented proven strategies and achieved dramatic declines in tobacco use, too many states have not and continue to suffer higher rates of tobacco use and devastating tobacco-caused diseases such as lung cancer and heart disease. In every policy area, there is much more work to do:

Tobacco taxes: The evidence is clear that increasing the price of tobacco products is one of the quickest and most effective ways to reduce tobacco use, especially among kids. While many states have increased tobacco taxes in recent years, there are vast disparities in state cigarette tax rates, from 7 cents per pack in South Carolina and 17 cents in Missouri to $3.46 in Rhode Island and $3 in Connecticut and Washington. With many states facing budget shortfalls, higher tobacco taxes provide a win-win-win solution – a health win that will reduce tobacco use and save lives, a budget win that will raise much-needed revenue and fund essential programs, and a political win that polls show is popular with voters. According to a report released earlier this year by the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids and our partners, if all states and the District of Columbia raised their cigarette tax rates by $1 per pack, they would prevent more than 2.3 million kids from becoming smokers; prompt more than 1.2 million adult smokers to quit; prevent more than one million premature, smoking-caused deaths; raise $9.1 billion in new annual revenue; and save $52.8 billion in health care costs (View details).

Well-funded tobacco prevention and cessation programs: Every state should fund a tobacco prevention and cessation program at the level recommended by the CDC. However, only one state, North Dakota, currently does so. Only nine other states funded tobacco prevention at even half the CDC-recommended level in fiscal year 2010, while 31 states and DC provide less than a quarter of the funding. In the current budget year, states are collecting more than $25 billion in revenue from the 1998 tobacco settlement and tobacco taxes, but will spend less than three percent of it on tobacco prevention programs. In fact, states cut funding for such programs by more than $103 million in FY2010 and have made large, additional cuts in the coming fiscal year. It is critical that states use more of their tobacco money to fight the tobacco problem.

Smoke-free workplace laws: To date, 28 states, Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico and hundreds of cities and counties have passed smoke-free laws that cover restaurants and bars. The states are Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas (effective July 1, 2010), Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan (May 1, 2010), Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, Rhode Island, Utah, Vermont, Washington and Wisconsin (July 5, 2010). Every state and community should be covered by a comprehensive smoke-free law that protects everyone’s right to breathe clean air.