Blame Lack Of 'Truth': Teen Smoking No Longer On The Decline
Federal funding down for anti-smoking campaigns targeted toward youth.
Remember those in-your-face "Truth" commercials with the teens who called out that huge tobacco company right outside its corporate headquarters? Or those billboards with the kids' lips, eyes and ears sewn shut? Well, if you've noticed fewer of these
spots in the media lately, you're not alone.
Those ads, which have been part of a successful effort to cut down on youth smoking, have been disappearing due to lower government funding, and that could be part of the reason a new study suggests tobacco use among middle school and high school students is no longer on the decline.
On Thursday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released its 2004 National Youth Tobacco Survey report, which showed that previous gains against youth smoking have significantly slowed. The survey, which is conducted every two years, indicated use of cigarettes, cigars and other tobacco products among those in grades 6-12 has not changed much since 2002.
"The significant progress we've made as a nation in reducing youth smoking has stalled," Bill Corr, executive director for the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, told the The Associated Press. He says the findings emphasize the need to push for more "evidence-based strategies" that have worked in curbing the number of teen smokers in the past, such as increasing the retail price of tobacco products, running more anti-smoking campaigns and reducing access to tobacco. Studies show that more than 4,000 young people between the ages of 12 and 17 try a cigarette for the first time every day, and 80 percent of all smokers have their first cigarette before they turn 18.
Of the 28,000 students who completed the survey, nearly 12 percent of middle school students reported using tobacco products, and 28 percent of high school students reported they did. Cigarettes were the most commonly used products, followed by cigars, smokeless tobacco and pipes.
One of the more surprising findings in the report was that 71 percent of middle school students said they were not asked to show proof of age when they purchased cigarettes from a store, and 64 percent were not refused the cigarettes because of their age.
The standstill in the decline of youth smoking comes as a blow to the American Legacy Foundation, whose nationwide "Truth" campaign had enjoyed considerable success in its efforts to deter teens from smoking. The foundation's study released in February reported that the campaign, launched in 2000 and seen via a host of media outlets, helped lead to the decline in youth smoking between 2000 and 2002, resulting in 300,000 fewer teen smokers.
Dr. Cheryl Healton, president and CEO of the American Legacy Foundation, believes the main contribution to the slowdown is the substantial cutbacks on federal funding for anti-smoking campaigns targeted toward youth. "The most important deterrent in teen smoking is education," she told MTV News, noting that funding for "Truth" has been cut down to less than three percent of what it received in 2000. Unfortunately, Healton said she doesn't foresee the funding coming back to what it was anytime soon.
Smoking-related illnesses remain the number one preventable cause of death in the United States, killing more than 440,000 people each year. An additional 50,000 die as a result of secondhand smoke.