A View from the Hill
Representative Casey's "View From the Hill" can be found on the web at
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: February 7, 2000
CONTACT: Tommy Voltero (617) 722-2240
"STAMPING OUT SMOKING IN MASSACHUSETTS"
Every day, over 3,000 children nationwide take their first puff of a cigarette. One-third of these kids will eventually die from a disease caused by tobacco.
These stunning facts were spinning around in my head a few weeks ago as I handed out D.A.R.E. graduation certificates to a group of 140 bright-eyed sixth graders at the Stoneham Middle School. While congratulating the boys and girls for their successful completion of the drug abuse resistance program, I began to think about the many challenges they would encounter in their teenage years.
After all, statistics show that 71% of high school students have tried cigarettes, and 80% of smokers got hooked before their 18th birthday. Nationwide (but not in Massachusetts), smoking has been rising amongst teenagers, especially young teens. Seeing that adolescence seems to be the time when smoking habits are formed, our middle schoolers in Stoneham will soon be faced with the decision of whether or not to take their first puff.
Generally speaking, tobacco is responsible for nearly one in every five deaths in the United States, totaling over 400,000 every year. Over the course of the century, smoking-related illnesses have killed more Americans than alcohol, illicit drugs, suicide, car accidents, and AIDS combined. In fact, the United States Surgeon General reported in the 1980s that smoking deaths in America far exceeded those resulting from battle deaths and war-related diseases in every conflict of our nation's history.
Just as smoking is deadly to the thousands of Americans who succumb to illnesses every year, it is also costly to the society at large. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention claim that health care expenditures caused directly by smoking total over $50 billion a year. Forty-five percent of these costs are paid for with government funds (i.e., your tax dollars), including Medicare and Medicaid. Specifically, tobacco costs Medicare $10 billion a year and Medicaid $5 billion. These figures do not even account for indirect costs which result from secondhand smoke, burns, fires, and infants with low birthweight.
Smoking-related illnesses also have a spillover effect on the economy. It is estimated that smoking costs the US economy almost $50 billion a year in lost productivity including sick days, decreased performance on the job, and extended absences from work. Combined with health care costs, each pack of cigarettes sold represents more than $3.90 in unaccounted expenses (called "externalities" by economists) to the American taxpayer, according to the American Cancer Society. In Massachusetts alone, these externalities cost taxpayers about $1.5 billion a year, or $250 for every man woman and child in the state.
That was, of course, until state governments decided that enough was enough and took on the top 5 tobacco companies in the nation.
In December, the Commonwealth received its first $99.7 million installment of an estimated $7.6 billion dollar settlement with the tobacco industry. This resulted from the tireless efforts of state officials throughout the nation who sued the industry to recover Medicaid costs associated with tobacco use (the federal government is now following suit). In the lawsuits, made famous by the movie, "The Insider," states alleged that the tobacco industry knowingly marketed their products in a deceptive manner to adults and children alike over the decades.
The lawsuits cite the shameless advertisements of the 50s which informed consumers that there were no negative side effects of smoking (some ads even pictured doctors puffing away in their offices). In addition, the lawsuits note that tobacco companies knowingly and willingly marketed their products to children. Statistics demonstrate, for example, that in the first four years of "Joe Camel," smokers under 18 who preferred Camels rose from less than one percent to as much as 30 percent of the market. Joe Camel was as familiar to six-year-olds as Mickey Mouse.
The "smoking" gun, of course, was an internal memo from the Philip Morris Company (maker of Marlboro cigarettes), which said that the "prevalence of teenage smoking is now declining sharply," and, "industry sales will begin to decline...[which is] not good news for the industry." This damaging piece of evidence was enough to demonstrate that, contrary to public statements, kids were primary targets.
Part of the agreement made with the tobacco industry, on top of the settlement funds, prohibits marketing activities that target minors. Promotional practices such as billboard advertising was banned, as well as the use of cartoon characters.
These measures will greatly enhance the already-existing state programs to stamp out smoking in our state. The Massachusetts Tobacco Control Program (MTCP), initiated in 1992 by voters and supported by legislators, has been a terrific success in its 8 years of operation. The MTCP funds local and statewide programs, conducts tobacco related research, and keeps a close eye on the tobacco industry (in the FY'00 Budget, the legislature boosted funding to this program by $23 million over the Governor's recommendation). Coupled with an excise tax on cigarettes and the restrictions established by the settlement, the MTCP is one of the best measures to combat smoking.
Since its introduction, cigarette consumption has declined 30% in our state, compared to 9% nationwide. Successful underage buying attempts have dropped from 48% to 10%, and youth smoking has remained constant even though it is rising everywhere else. With the new restrictions in place regarding advertising techniques, we expect to see this figure decrease in the coming years.
The one thing to remember about solving the smoking problem in the United States is that no one can do it alone. Parents, educators, safety officers, and concerned citizens all have a role to play in safeguarding the health of our children. Their continued advocacy will bring us one step closer to curbing smoking across the Commonwealth. Together, with state legislators, they will make it clear to the industry that the children of Massachusetts are "off limits" for tobacco products.