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New Study Confirms States Can Reduce Youth Smoking with Well-Funded Prevention Programs, Higher Tobacco Taxes and Strong Smoke-Free Laws

Statement of Matthew L. Myers, President, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids
January 17, 2013

WASHINGTON, DC – A study published today in the American Journal of Public Health provides compelling new evidence that states can significantly reduce youth smoking by implementing well-funded tobacco prevention programs, increasing the price of cigarettes through higher taxes and enacting strong smoke-free air laws. The study found that, between 2002 and 2008, each of these measures separately contributed to declines in youth smoking and together they reduced the number of youth smokers by about 220,000.

The study also found that states could achieve far greater gains if they more fully implemented these proven strategies. For example, the study found that a doubling of cigarette prices would reduce current youth smoking by 13 percent, the largest reduction among the policy interventions studied. This study is further evidence that we know how to win the fight against tobacco use – the nation's number one cause of preventable death – but need the political will to implement the solutions we know work.

The study assessed the associations between state policies to reduce tobacco use and youth smoking outcomes, focusing on youths aged 12 to 17. It found that tobacco prevention programs, cigarette price increases and an expansion of smoke-free laws each contributed to declines in current youth smoking during the 2002-2008 period studied (although price increases were modest during this period). The researchers concluded, 'Had the policies remained unchanged, the prevalence of current smoking nationally would have been 9.7 percent higher in 2008 than the actual rate, or roughly 220,000 more youth smokers.'

Given the overwhelming evidence that these tobacco prevention policies work, it is disappointing and inexcusable that most states have failed to fully implement these measures and in fact have gone backward in recent years.

The states must restore funding for tobacco prevention programs that have been slashed by 36 percent (about $260 million) since 2008. The states this year are collecting a record $25.7 billion from the tobacco settlement and tobacco taxes, but are spending less than two percent of it ($459.5 million) on these life-saving programs, according to a report issued in November by the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids and other public health organizations. The states are providing just 12.4 percent of the funding recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This is shameful and must improve.

States must also pick up the pace in enacting tobacco tax increases and smoke-free laws. State progress has slowed on these measures as the tobacco industry and its allies have increased their opposition, even seeking to roll them back. As revealed this week by a report from the National Institute on Money in State Politics, tobacco companies spend huge sums on political contributions to try to get their way, contributing $3.5 million to state-level candidates and $3 million to party committees during the 2011-2012 election cycle.

Tobacco use kills more than 400,000 Americans and costs the nation $96 billion in health care bills each year. The new study is a timely reminder that tobacco's toll is entirely preventable if elected leaders fully implement tobacco prevention measures that are proven to work.

The study abstract can be found online.