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New Survey Shows Youth Smoking Has Stopped Declining, Smokeless Tobacco Use Up; Elected Leaders Must Step up Fight to Protect Kids from Tobacco

Statement of Matthew L. Myers, President, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids
December 14, 2010

Washington, D.C. - It is troubling news for the nation's health that the 2010 Monitoring the Future Survey released today shows that smoking rates have stopped declining and may have ticked up slightly among 8th and 10th graders, while youth smokeless tobacco use has increased significantly in recent years. These results come as states have slashed funding for tobacco prevention programs while the tobacco industry continues to aggressively market its deadly and addictive products. The industry's recent tactics have included the introduction of an array of new smokeless tobacco products, many in kid-friendly candy and fruit flavors, and heavy discounting that makes cigarettes and other tobacco products more affordable and appealing to price-sensitive kids.

The Monitoring the Future results, released by the National Institute of Drug Abuse, are consistent with those of other recent surveys. They sound a clear warning to elected officials at all levels that we cannot take continued progress against tobacco for granted and must redouble efforts to implement proven strategies, including higher tobacco taxes, increased funding for tobacco prevention programs including mass media campaigns, strong smoke-free laws and effective regulation of tobacco products and marketing.

It is especially critical that the states quickly increase funding for tobacco prevention programs that have been decimated by budget cuts in recent years. In the past three years, states have slashed funding for tobacco prevention programs by 28 percent to the lowest level since 1999, when they first received funds from settlement of their lawsuits against the tobacco industry. This year (Fiscal Year 2011), the states will collect $25.3 billion in revenue from the tobacco settlement and tobacco taxes, but will spend only two percent of it $517.9 million on programs to prevent kids from smoking and help smokers quit. Altogether, the states are providing just 14 percent of the tobacco prevention funding recommended by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The evidence is clear that the more the states spend on tobacco prevention programs, and the longer they do so, the greater the declines in tobacco use. It is no coincidence that the largest youth smoking declines occurred between about 1997 and 2003 when funding for tobacco prevention programs increased, as did cigarette prices, in the wake of the 1998 state tobacco settlement. Since then, states have repeatedly cut funding for such programs, and Legacy has also had to reduce funding for its highly successful truth® youth smoking prevention campaign because most of its settlement funding ended in 2003.

There is some reason for optimism. Last month, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius announced the first ever national Tobacco Control Strategic Action Plan. It is critical that the federal government fund and implement this plan, including a national media campaign to prevent kids from smoking and encourage smokers to quit. The Food and Drug Administration must also continue to vigorously exercise its new authority to regulate the manufacture, marketing and sale of tobacco products. The FDA imposed new restrictions on tobacco marketing and sales to kids in June, but the tobacco industry is challenging even stricter marketing restrictions in court.

The Monitoring the Future survey is another reminder that the United States truly is at a crossroads in the fight against tobacco, the nation's number cause of preventable death and disease. If elected leaders step up their efforts to implement proven solutions, we can accelerate smoking declines and win one of the greatest public health victories in our nation's history. If they fail to do so, progress will stop and even reverse, at great cost in health, lives and health care dollars. Especially in light of the new Surgeon General's report showing how thoroughly destructive smoking is to both individual and public health, there simply is no excuse for failing to fight tobacco use with the political leadership and resources that match the scope of the problem.

There is no question that we know how to win the fight against tobacco. As the Monitoring the Future Survey shows, smoking rates (the percentage who smoked in the past month) have declined by 66 percent among 8th graders, by 55 percent among 10th graders and by 48 percent among 12th graders since peaking in 1996-1997. For the first time, the 12th grade smoking rate has fallen to under 20 percent (to 19.2 percent). However, youth smoking declines have slowed or stalled in recent years. In fact, the new survey finds a small, although not statistically significant, increase in smoking among 8th and 10th graders, a trend that could grow as these younger students age unless prevention efforts are strengthened.

Also troubling is the survey's finding that there have been significant increases in smokeless tobacco use for all three grades over the past several years. Among 12th graders, 8.5 percent used smokeless tobacco in 2010, a 39 percent increase since 2006. Even more alarming, 15.7 percent of 12th grade boys currently use smokeless tobacco.

This increase coincides with a large increase in smokeless tobacco marketing and the introduction of numerous new smokeless tobacco products. In recent years, the top two U.S. cigarette manufacturers, Philip Morris and R.J. Reynolds, have entered the smokeless tobacco market both by purchasing existing smokeless tobacco companies and introducing new smokeless tobacco products. These new products have included Marlboro snus and Camel snus that married the names of these companies' best-selling and most youth-popular cigarette brands to pouched smokeless tobacco products called snus. R.J. Reynolds also introduced new dissolvable smokeless tobacco, called Camel Sticks, Strips and Orbs, that look like gum and candy. These new products are easy to conceal, carry the names of youth-popular cigarette brands and come in candy-like forms and flavors. In addition, more traditional smokeless tobacco products continue to be marketed in a wide variety of candy and fruit flavors.

According to the latest data from the Federal Trade Commission, smokeless tobacco marketing totaled $354.1 million in 2006, an increase of 53 percent since 2004. While most cigarette brands have stopped advertising in magazines with large youth readerships such as Sports Illustrated and Rolling Stone, many smokeless tobacco brands continue to advertise in these publications, most notably R.J. Reynolds' Camel snus. As with cigarettes, the bulk of smokeless tobacco marketing is spent on price discounts that make these products more affordable to youth customers.

The increase in smokeless tobacco use also comes as some smokeless manufacturers have sought to portray their products as a less hazardous alternative to cigarettes. Rather than reducing the number of smokers, today's survey indicates that the main consequence of current smokeless tobacco products and marketing is to increase the number of youth who use smokeless tobacco. That is bad news for health because smokeless tobacco is far from harmless. Smokeless tobacco use causes oral cancer, cardiovascular disease, gum disease and tooth decay. It has also been linked to cancers of the esophagus, pharynx, larynx, stomach and pancreas.

Tobacco use causes more than 400,000 preventable deaths and costs the nation nearly $100 billion in health care bills each year. We know how to win the fight against this killer. What's needed is the political will to do so.

More information on the Monitoring the Future Survey can be found at