As Congress debates health care reform, it’s easy to lose sight of what we agree on—and what we know works
to prevent disease and lower costs. Helping people quit smoking and keeping young people from starting are proven ways to
reduce the awful toll of cancer, heart attacks and other serious illnesses caused by tobacco use, which remains the nation’s
leading cause of preventable death and adds $96 billion to our health care costs every year.
I’m proud to live in Indiana, a state that has taken tobacco prevention seriously, and gotten some serious results. Through hard work and constant effort, our Indiana tobacco-prevention program has cut our high school student smoking rates dramatically. Unfortunately, we still have the second-highest rate of adult smoking in the country. And now, after years of progress against tobacco, the nation has stalled.
According to the latest government data, there’s been no reduction in the rate of adult smoking since 2004. To keep from falling backward, Congress must make funding for prevention programs a priority in health care reform. The Senate in particular must protect these funds as it debates reform in the coming weeks.
I work in VOICE, Indiana’s youth-led movement to curb smoking by teen-agers and combat the tobacco industry’s marketing messages that bombard us every day. Our work gives young people the tools to resist. For example, we tell kids as young as fourth and fifth grade that for what they might spend on cigarettes in a year, they could take a trip to Disney World. I’ve personally seen several of my classmates throw their chewing tobacco in the trash after a guest speaker explained its dangers.
Our youth smoking rates have dropped dramatically since Indiana started vigorously funding prevention. In 2000, almost a third of high school students smoked, but that’s dropped to about 18 percent. Calls to Indiana’s quit line have gone up by 600 percent over the past two years. Still, the tobacco industry spends $1 million every day in Indiana to market its products. Big Tobacco never takes a break, so neither should we.
Tobacco use kills more than 400,000 Americans annually and costs billions in excess health costs and lost productivity. Across the nation, community-based prevention programs are educating young people about tobacco’s dangers and helping current smokers to quit. They deserve help from Congress and the health reform legislation is the proper place to provide it.
Senior, Greenfield Central High School
National Youth Advocate of the Year
Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids