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The Tobacco Fight Is Far From Over

By: Dr. Howard K. Koh, Assistant Secretary for Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

HuffingtonPost.com
July 31, 2014

"The USA remains one of the world's largest and most profitable cigarette markets," proclaimed a recent press release from Imperial Tobacco, one of the world's biggest tobacco companies.

Unfortunately, this statement is correct. Each year, about 14 billion packs of cigarettes are consumed in this country. This translates into about 1,300 Americans deaths daily from tobacco use. For each of these deaths, another 30 people suffer from tobacco-related illnesses. At this rate, roughly two children in every third grade American classroom today will die prematurely from smoking-related causes. That is 5.6 million of our children.

This pointless loss of life must stop. In the five years of the Obama administration, our country has truly reinvigorated its tobacco control efforts. In 2010, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) unveiled the first-ever national strategic plan for tobacco control, using scientific data and extensive real-world evidence to outline concrete actions - from clean air policies and higher tobacco taxes to educational media campaigns and tobacco cessation interventions - to help combat the tobacco epidemic at the national, community and individual levels. We have made significant progress toward our objectives.

In 2009, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) gained the authority to regulate the manufacture, marketing, and distribution of tobacco products through the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act. At the local level, we have encouraged states and communities to join the fight and backed it up with more than $200 million in support to promote comprehensive tobacco control, including the expansion of tobacco quitlines.

Recognizing that 99 percent of people who smoke start using tobacco before the age of 26, HHS partnered with the American College Health Association, the University of Michigan, the Association of Schools of Public Health and Legacy to promote the Tobacco-Free College Campus Initiative, a movement advocating the voluntary adoption of tobacco-free policies at institutions of higher learning. To date, close to 1,400 university and college campuses have gone tobacco- or smoke-free.

Multimedia campaigns such as the FDA's "The Real Cost" or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's "Tips from Former Smokers" have educated youth on the health consequences and addictive nature of tobacco use and motivated more than 1.6 million smokers to quit. To complement these efforts, the Affordable Care Act gives more people affordable access to effective tools for quitting by covering screening and cessation interventions without co-pays.

The fight is far from over. According to the Federal Trade Commission, tobacco companies spend a staggering $8.8 billion a year in the U.S. - roughly $1 million per hour - in an attempt to market their deadly products to the American public. Increasingly, tobacco companies are targeting some of our most vulnerable populations - the poor, the homeless, the incarcerated, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered people, as well as people with mental illness and/or substance use disorders. Cigarettes today are more addictive and more deadly than ever, causing asthma, diabetes and various types of cancer, along with other smoking-caused diseases.

Thankfully, we have numerous allies in our fight against tobacco, from nonprofit advocacy organizations to private sector partners like CVS, which recently announced plans to stop selling tobacco products, as well as the rapidly expanding tobacco- and smoke-free campus movement.

As I conclude more than five years of service as the Assistant Secretary for Health, it is my fervent hope that we can someday relegate the tobacco epidemic to the history books. Let us stop this suffering once and for all and give our kids a fighting chance for a healthy future.


Content created by Assistant Secretary for Health
Content last reviewed on August 6, 2014