More than 5 million Americans now under the age of 18 will die prematurely from smoking, according to new government projections that reflect increasing tobacco use by teen-agers.
But the government also released new figures highlighting huge discrepancies among states in the percentage of adult smokers and the success California and Massachusetts have had in cutting adult smoking rates by a combination of raising taxes and supporting anti-tobacco advertising.
"These studies show the potential for prevention," said Dr. Michael D. Eriksen, director of the Office of Smoking and Health at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the federal agency that published the research in its Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.
"The 5 million deaths is a projection that doesn't have to become reality. This is a wake-up call," he said.
Eriksen said the studies underscored the need for the Food and Drug Administration's recently adopted regulations aimed at curtailing tobacco marketing that appeals to young smokers and at reducing their access to cigarettes. The tobacco industry, which is mounting legal challenges to the FDA's authority to impose the new rules, dismissed the research as old news rehashed to build support for the regulations.
"It's reminiscent of things we've seen before," said Walker Merryman, a spokesman for the Tobacco Institute in Washington.
The state-by-state adult smoking figures reflect surveys made last year. Utah, where the anti-tobacco stance of the Mormon Church is influential and only 13.2 percent of residents 18 or older smoke regularly, is the only state below the 15 percent level that the federal government has set as a national target for the year 2000. Kentucky, a tobacco-growing state with very low tobacco taxes, has the highest rate at 27.8 percent.
Maryland's rate is 21.2 percent.
The report released yesterday on California and Massachusetts said the two states had cut adult smoking rates rapidly by FTC imposing a 25-cents-per-pack tax increase and dedicating some of the new revenue to statewide anti-tobacco advertising. From 1992, the year before the Massachusetts measures, to 1996, the state spent $116 million on tobacco control programs. The number of cigarettes smoked by the average adult in that state fell 2.2 percent annually.
The decline in the same periods in California, which carried out similar measures in 1990, was 2.7 percent annually.
In 41 other states which did not have such programs and for which data was available, smoking rates fell at a slower rate: 0.8 percent annually.
Pub Date: 11/08/96