Teen Smoking Levels Off as State Spending Falls

Cuts in anti-smoking ads take their toll, new survey finds

THURSDAY, Oct. 27, 2005 (HealthDay News) -- Declines in smoking rates among American teens started to stall just as states began cutting funding for anti-smoking campaigns to offset budget deficits, a new survey found.

The results of this survey showed that state-sponsored, anti-smoking TV campaigns increased from 1999 to 2002, thanks largely to money from the landmark 1998 settlement with tobacco companies that made an estimated $246 billion available to states over 25 years. However, there was a decline in these anti-smoking programs from 2002 to 2003, and this drop-off corresponded with cuts in funding for state tobacco-prevention and control programs during this period, the survey found.

And the reduction in funding for anti-smoking advertising might be a factor in the lack of substantial change in the number of teens smoking from 2002 to 2004. Smoking among teens had been declining substantially since 1997, the researchers noted.

The findings appear in the Oct. 28 issue of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

"We are confident that the decline in advertising is the result of cutbacks in state anti-tobacco programs," said co-author Dr. David Nelson, a senior scientific advisor in the CDC's Office on Smoking and Health, part of the National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion.

From 2002 to 2004, state spending on tobacco-prevention and control programs dropped by 28 percent in the United States. In Florida and Massachusetts, cuts have exceeded 75 percent, for instance, the report said.

And reductions in state-funded anti-tobacco television advertisements appear to have contributed the recent lack of substantial change in teen cigarette smoking from 2002 to 2004. In 2002, 22.5 percent of high school students smoked, compared with 21.8 percent in 2004. For middle school students, the corresponding numbers were 9.8 percent to 8.3 percent. These declines are not significant, according to the report's authors.

"States do get money from the tobacco settlement," Nelson said. "It's a question of how they use them. It's estimated that only 3 percent of all those funds are used for anti-tobacco activities."

Nelson noted that the CDC recommends that states support anti-smoking campaigns. "It does seem that the more they spend on tobacco-control programs, the greater the impact," he said. "States need to support anti-tobacco activities. One of the key components is a media presence."

Danny McGoldrick is vice president for research at the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. "This is an inevitable result of the cuts to state tobacco-prevention programs that we've see over the last several years," he said. "States never did a good job of allocating their tobacco-settlement dollars and their tobacco tax dollars to programs to reduce tobacco use. They've done even a worse job in the past few years."

States have cut more than $200 million a year in tobacco-cessation programs, McGoldrick added. "This has resulted in fewer kids being exposed to these media programs that we know are an important part of a comprehensive tobacco program."

When you spend the money on these programs that are known to work, you get an impact, McGoldrick said. "When you don't spend that money, fewer kids are affected and we can expect a negative impact on smoking rates."

States will receive more than $20 billion this year from the smoking settlement agreement and tobacco taxes, McGoldrick said. "It would take less than 10 percent of those dollars for every state to fund tobacco-prevention programs at the level recommended by the CDC. But they just don't do it."

Another expert sees the cuts in anti-smoking programs as "shameful."

"Smoking is an addictive scourge that takes root during adolescence," said Dr. David L. Katz, an associate professor of public health, and director of the Prevention Research Center, at Yale University School of Medicine.

"Efforts to curtail the initiation of smoking in adolescence are deserving of society's strongest support, and the allocation of considerable resources," Katz said. "The trends reported here are worrisome, disturbing, and perhaps even shameful. The tobacco wars wage on, and should we become complacent now, there is no question that lives will be lost as a result."

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention can tell you more about children and smoking.

SOURCES: David Nelson, M.D., senior scientific advisor, Office on Smoking and Health, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta; Danny McGoldrick, vice president, research, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, Washington, D.C.; David L. Katz, M.D., M.P.H., associate professor, public health, director, Prevention Research Center, Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, Conn.; Oct. 28, 2005, Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report
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