High School Smoking Declines Have Stalled
Like other recent surveys, the 2007 Monitoring the Future Survey released today by the National Institute of Drug Abuse shows that the nation's progress in reducing youth smoking has stalled or slowed to a crawl. It is encouraging that the survey found that smoking declined among 8th graders from 2006 to 2007, the first statistically significant decline in that age group in four years. However, it is troubling and bad news for the nation's health that, for the fourth year in a row, the survey found no statistically significant change in smoking rates for 10th and 12th graders.
There is no question that we know how to dramatically reduce youth smoking as evidenced by the fact that smoking rates (the percentage who have smoked in the past 30 days) have declined by 66 percent among 8th graders, 54 percent among 10th graders and 41 percent among 12th graders since peaking in the mid-1990s. But the lack of progress in recent years is a clear warning to elected officials at all levels to resist complacency and redouble efforts to implement proven measures to reduce tobacco use. It is unacceptable to stand still in the fight against tobacco use, the number one preventable cause of death in the United States. We cannot be satisfied when more than 21 percent of high school seniors still smoke. Half who continue to smoke will die prematurely as a result.
The Monitoring the Future survey follows other recent surveys showing that smoking declines have stalled among both youth and adults after nearly a decade of progress. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently reported that 20.8 percent of U.S. adults smoked in 2006, about the same as the 20.9 percent who smoked in 2005 and 2004.
Science and experience have identified proven solutions that can continue -- indeed, accelerate -- our nation's progress in reducing smoking. What's needed is the political leadership to aggressively implement them. Just this year, landmark reports by the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies of Sciences and the President's Cancer Panel have agreed on the steps that Congress and the states must take to significantly reduce and eventually eliminate the tobacco epidemic:
-- Congress should enact long-overdue legislation granting the U.S. Food and Drug Administration authority over tobacco products, including the authority to regulate the contents of tobacco products and to restrict tobacco marketing that appeals to children and misleads consumers. Congress should also significantly increase the federal cigarette tax, as called for in pending legislation to fund the State Children's Health Insurance Program, and fund a national public education campaign.
-- The states must further increase tobacco taxes, enact comprehensive smoke-free workplace laws and adequately fund tobacco prevention programs at levels recommended by the CDC.
According to the CDC, several factors have contributed to the recent stalling of progress:
-- Between 2002 and 2005, states cut funding for tobacco prevention and cessation programs by 28 percent. While funding has increased somewhat since, only three states (Maine, Delaware and Colorado) currently fund tobacco prevention programs at CDC-recommended levels despite the fact all the states combined collect nearly $25 billion a year in revenue from the tobacco settlement and tobacco taxes. At the national level, the American Legacy Foundation had to reduce its highly successful truth public education media campaign because most of its funding under the 1998 tobacco settlement ended after 2003.
-- While states cut funding for tobacco prevention, tobacco marketing expenditures have skyrocketed since the 1998 state tobacco settlement. From 1998 to 2005, tobacco marketing expenditures nearly doubled from $6.9 billion to $13.4 billion, according to the most recent Federal Trade Commission report on tobacco marketing.
-- Tobacco prices have also played a critical role. From 1997 to 2002, when youth and adult smoking rates declined significantly, the average retail price of a pack of cigarettes increased by 91 percent as a result of the tobacco settlement and cigarette tax increases. Since 2002, cigarette prices have barely increased, and smoking declines have subsequently stalled. Cigarette prices have been stable because the tobacco companies currently spend more than 80 percent of their marketing dollars on price discounts that counteract the effects of state cigarette tax increases. The tobacco companies have done this because they know that higher cigarette prices are one of the most effective ways to reduce smoking, especially among kids.
Tobacco use kills more than 400,000 Americans and costs the nation nearly $100 billion in health care bills each year. While our nation has made remarkable progress in reducing smoking, the battle is far from won. Political complacency and the tobacco companies' aggressive marketing threaten a reversal of our progress. Our challenge today is to summon the political will to combat the tobacco epidemic as aggressively as the tobacco companies continue to market their deadly and addictive products.