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CDC Slams Anti-Smoking Spot Cuts

Teen smoking rates, once dropping sharply, leveled off after anti-smoking media campaigns suffered big cuts in federal and state funding, says a new report by the Centers for Disease Control.

"The lack of substantial change among middle and high school students during the preceding two years emphasizes the need for sustained, comprehensive, evidence-based programs that demonstrate the ability to reduce adolescent smoking," CDC concluded in a report published April 1 in the centers' Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.A big reduction in anti-smoking media campaigns was one of two causes for stagnating smoking rates suggested by CDC. The other was tobacco companies' increased Internet marketing and tobacco product price cuts aimed a blunting the impact of state tobacco tax hikes. During the past two years, funding for anti-smoking media campaigns took a dive. The states cut funding for tobacco-prevention programs by 28% $523 million. At the national level, the state tobacco settlement money used to fund "truth"  anti-smoking ads ended after 2003.The CDC survey found that 22.3% of high school students had smoked in the month before they were surveyed, statistically no change from the 2.5% measured in 2002. As for middle schoolers, 8.1% had smoked as opposed to 9.8.% two years before. Even though the middle school numbers dropped by almost two percentage points, CDC said the decline was "no significant change."

Because of a decline in media images, they cannot be blamed for leveling smoking rates.   During the 2002-04 span, CDC found a "significant overall decline" in the share of high school students--from 91.3% to 86.5%--who reported seeing actors using tobacco on television or in the movies. Given that popular media figures are sometimes viewed by children as role models, smoking critics have argued that tobacco use on the small and big screen contributes to tobacco use among children.

Anti-smoking group Tobacco Free Kids jumped on the CDC report to criticize tobacco's price cutting and marketing practices as well as state anti-smoking cutbacks. "States have no excuse for their failure to do more. They are collecting more revenue than ever before from the tobacco settlement and tobacco taxes, more of which should be used to fund tobacco prevention and cessation programs."