Tackling Teen Smoking

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Ninety percent of smokers are hooked before the age of 19. The good news is that efforts to stop them from starting in the first place seem to be working. Bill Corr, executive vice president of the campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids talked to The Early Show about it.

Smoking rates for high school seniors are the lowest they have been since records began in 1975, and even lower for younger teens says Bill Corr, executive vice president of the campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.

According to the Monitoring the Future survey, which takes an annual look at smoking rates among teens in this country, smoking among high school seniors is at its lowest level in twenty-seven years.

After alarming increases in youth smoking rates during the first half of the 1990's, the tide has been turned. Smoking rates among eighth, tenth and twelfth graders are all at the lowest levels ever recorded. The survey dates back to 1975 for twelfth graders and to 1991 for eighth and tenth graders. Among eighth graders, 10.7 percent report having smoked in the past month, a decline of 12.3 percent in one year and 49 percent since rates peaked in 1996. Among tenth graders, 17.7 percent reported past month smoking, a decline of 16.9 percent in one year and 41.8 percent since 1996. Among twelfth graders, 26.7 reported past month smoking, a decline of 9.5 percent in one year and 26.8 percent since 1997. There is evidence that teen attitudes toward smoking are really changing. More and more teens see smoking as dangerous and unattractive.

This progress is the result of a comprehensive, science-based approach to reducing tobacco use. The factors include cigarette price increases, comprehensive tobacco prevention programs, and smoke-free workplace policies.

We have learned that while each of these measures is effective by themselves, they are most successful when implemented together in a comprehensive approach, says Corr. These programs reach kids in their schools and communities, as well as through aggressive media campaigns such as the American Legacy Foundation's national truth campaign and similar campaigns in a growing number of states.

As a result of increased cigarette taxes in the past year, states have more tobacco-generated revenue then ever before to fund tobacco prevention programs. States currently collect more than $23 billion a year in tobacco revenue, including $15 billion in tobacco taxes and $8 billion in tobacco settlement payments. To fund tobacco prevention programs at the minimum levels recommended by the CDC, the states cumulatively would have to spend $1.6 billion a year, less than seven percent of their total tobacco revenue. Unfortunately, the states in Fiscal Year 2003 plan to spend only $640 million for tobacco prevention, 40 percent of the CDC recommendation and just 2.8 percent of their total tobacco revenue. Only five states currently fund prevention programs at the minimum levels recommended by the CDC.

And the battle is far from won says Corr. "We are making significant progress, but tobacco toll's is still too high - $75 billion a year in health care costs and 2,000 more kids addicted every day, one-third of whom will die prematurely. We also need to keep up efforts to help adults quit. A parent who smokes is a powerful role model that can set kids on the wrong course early on."

Tobacco use is still the leading preventable cause of death and disease in our country. Smoking still kills more than 400,000 Americans every year and more than a quarter of high school students still graduate as smokers.