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New Study Provides Roadmap for Nation's Tobacco Problem

Armen Hareyan's picture

Institute of Medicine report that finds America must implement strategies that effectively reduce and prevent smoking and combine those efforts with a changed regulatory and policy landscape to fight the nation's number-one cause of preventable death.

The American Legacy Foundation (Legacy), focused on helping smokers quit and preventing youth from starting, recognizes the IOM report as a comprehensive blueprint addressing smoking at various levels in Americans' lives. In addition to calling attention to the toll tobacco takes on our nation, the report makes specific recommendations -- 42 in total -- that the IOM has presented to the U.S. Congress.

Actions noted in this list include supporting effective media campaigns for smoking prevention and cessation. As the only organization directing a national media campaign for youth smoking prevention -- other than the tobacco industry -- Legacy hopes that funding will continue and grow for efforts like its truth campaign and state-specific campaigns, the foundation's President and CEO Cheryl Healton, Dr. P.H., said.

"At the national level we have seen how Legacy's truth campaign has specifically contributed to the decline in youth smoking. Other media campaigns at the state level have been credited with reducing the number of youth who smoke. Despite these successes, however, funding has been cut for most of these counter-marketing efforts," Healton said. "As the IOM report states: we know what to do. We need to muster the political will and act now to address the nation's tobacco problem."

Healton added that she agrees with the IOM's assessment that the tobacco industry, given the obvious and inherent conflicts of interest, should not communicate with youth for any purpose whether to encourage or discourage smoking, or to conduct surveys on youth opinions, attitudes, or behaviors. In addition, because they profit so enormously from the sales of their products, the tobacco industry cannot simultaneously be viewed as a credible source of information for smokers who want to quit.

The EX campaign, an innovative new smoking cessation pilot program has been market tested in four cities this year and will launch nationally in 2008 with a trusted alliance of public health and tobacco control partners with expertise in helping smokers quit successfully.

Other recommendations in the IOM report include:

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-- Giving the FDA broad regulatory authority over tobacco products

-- Having states fund tobacco-control activities at minimum levels recommended by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control

-- Increasing tobacco excise taxes at state and federal levels

-- Reducing tobacco advertising in stores and strengthening warnings printed on individual cigarette packs

Several reports throughout U.S. history have been significant milestones in the decades-long effort to decrease smoking and save lives from tobacco- related disease. The Surgeon General's Reports on Smoking, first issued in 1964, sounded alarms for the nation. Based on these reports we know unequivocally that tobacco is highly addictive and kills one half of lifetime smokers, and there is no safe level of exposure to secondhand smoke.

"Tobacco is a unique product that, if introduced today, would quite simply never make it to market due to its deadly nature. It also has a juggernaut of an industry spending over $36 million every day in the U.S. alone to promote its products," said William Sorrell, Legacy board chair and attorney general of the state of Vermont. "Tobacco is by its very nature a complicated product and problem, but because it remains the number-one cause of preventable death in our nation, it calls for a set of complex and creative solutions to solve it. The IOM has provided that set of solutions."

IOM further states that if, as a nation, we commit ourselves to implementing the blueprint, we can reduce smoking prevalence rates to 10 percent by the year 2025, save millions of lives and serve as a model for developing nations where smoking rates are climbing dramatically.

Approximately 21 percent of American adults currently smoke. The IOM report notes that if its recommendations are implemented as described, smoking rates could be cut to 10 percent by the year 2025. While the IOM recognizes this goal as an optimistic one, it also notes the economic toll of tobacco in the United States: lost work productivity attributable to death from tobacco totals more than $92 billion each year, and private and public healthcare expenditures for smoking related disease reach $89 billion per year.

Because of the American Legacy Foundation's mission to build a world where young people reject tobacco and anyone can quit, Legacy asked IOM to take a comprehensive look at tobacco use in the United States. As a result IOM independently produced this two-pronged strategy that envisions strengthening and fully implementing "traditional tobacco control measures know to be effective" and addresses the regulatory and policy landscapes. Legacy, according to the restrictions under which it was established in the Master Settlement Agreement, cannot lobby and therefore will continue its focus on the first part of IOM's blueprint: employing recognized, successful tobacco- control measures.