Here’s a sobering statistic about the tobacco epidemic –a battle many Americans think is already won: If we continue at current smoking rates, 5.6 million children alive today will ultimately die prematurely from smoking. That’s one in 13 kids gone too early due to an entirely preventable cause. That is unacceptable.
That’s why we are asking every American to join our efforts to make the next generation tobacco-free.
Today, we are at a crossroads. In the past 50 years, we’ve more than cut the adult smoking rate in half from nearly 43% down to 18%, and we've reduced 12th grade students' smoking rate to 16% in 2013 from a high of 38% in 1976. Yet nearly 500,000 Americans die of smoking-related disease each year. What’s more, the tobacco epidemic costs us nearly $300 billion in productivity and direct medical costs annually. I believe a tobacco-free generation is within our reach, but it will take commitment from across the spectrum – from federal, state and local governments, but also from businesses, educators, the entertainment industry and beyond.
Already, we are seeing leadership from the private sector. This month, CVS, the second largest pharmacy chain in the country announced it will no longer sell tobacco products. In doing so, CVS it is at once reducing access to these harmful products and helping to make smoking less attractive.
We know that consumers, especially children, are influenced by pro-smoking messages when they shop in stores that sell tobacco products. This includes the display of cigarettes behind the register known as the “power wall.” For young people, “power walls” help shape cigarette brand awareness and the sense that smoking is normal and accepted.
In multiple ways, CVS’s decision will have impact. I applaud this private sector health leader for taking an important new step to curtail tobacco use. I hope that other retailers will take up this pro-health mantle.
The stakes are high. Each day, more than 3,200 youth under age 18 in the United States try their first cigarette, and another 700 kids under age 18 who’ve been occasional smokers become daily smokers. I am thrilled that earlier this month, the Food and Drug Administration launched its first national tobacco education campaign,TheRealCost.gov. The campaign is targeting on-the-cusp youth: the 12 to 17 year old kids who are open to smoking or have experimented with cigarettes, but are not regular smokers.
But creating a tobacco-free generation cannot start and end with our youngest citizens: working toward this goal begins in the present, and reaching adult smokers is essential.
In that light, I’m very pleased the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has started the third season of their impactful Tips From Former Smokers campaign. The 2012 Tips series alone prompted an estimated 1.6 million smokers to try to quit, resulting in more than 200,000 additional calls to 1-800-QUIT-NOW, and helped at least 100,000 smokers quit for good.
I am inspired by the ongoing work that is necessary to drastically reduce smoking rates in our country. Whether it’s other retailers following CVS’ lead, more colleges and universities joining the 2,000 schools that are part of the Department of Health and Human Services’ National Tobacco-Free College Campus Initiative (tobaccofreecampus.org), or movie studios taking tobacco use and imagery out of youth-rated films, I encourage new partners to help us stop the cycle of sickness, disability and death caused by tobacco. Victory will require bold action. What will you do to help make the next generation tobacco-free?