Health Highlights: Dec. 12, 2007

Wednesday, December 12, 2007; 12:00 AM

Here are some of the latest health and medical news developments, compiled by editors ofHealthDay:

Health Experts Warn of Loss of Momentum in Fight Against Smoking

Noting that U.S. smoking rates are stagnant after nearly a decade of decline, a coalition of public health organizations warned Wednesday that the nation's progress in reducing smoking is at risk unless states significantly increase funding for programs to prevent children from smoking and help smokers quit.

The warning, contained in an annual report, assesses whether states are keeping their promise to use proceeds from the 1998 state tobacco settlement to fight tobacco use. This year, the report found that states have increased funding for tobacco prevention and cessation programs by 20 percent -- to $717.2 million, the highest level in six years.

But, most states still fail to fund these programs at minimum levels recommended by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the states combined are providing less than half of what the CDC has recommended, the report said.

The report, "A Broken Promise to Our Children: The 1998 State Tobacco Settlement Nine Years Later," was released by the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, the American Heart Association, the American Lung Association and the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network.

Among the report's findings:

Only three states -- Maine, Delaware and Colorado -- currently fund tobacco prevention programs at CDC minimum levels. Only 17 other states fund tobacco prevention programs at even half the CDC's minimum amount. Thirty states and the District of Columbia are spending less than half the CDC minimum, while Connecticut has appropriated no funding for tobacco prevention this year. Total state funding for tobacco prevention amounts to less than 3 percent of the record $24.9 billion the states will collect this year from the tobacco settlement and tobacco taxes. Just 6.4 percent of this tobacco revenue would fund prevention programs in every state at CDC minimum levels. The states' funding of tobacco prevention pales compared to the $13.4 billion a year spent on tobacco marketing and the nearly $100 billion spent each year on health-care bills due to tobacco use.

The report comes as recent surveys have found that the nation's progress in reducing smoking has stalled among both children and adults. The CDC recently reported that 20.8 percent of adults smoked in 2006, about the same as the 20.9 percent in 2004 and 2005. This followed a steady decline between 1997 and 2004. High school smoking rates have similarly stalled after declining from a high of 36.4 percent in 1997, and 23 percent of high school students still smoke, according to the most recent CDC data cited by the report.

The CDC has attributed this stall to several factors, including cuts in tobacco prevention funding, increases in tobacco marketing and stagnant cigarette prices due to industry discounting.

"It is unacceptable to stand still in the fight against the number one preventable cause of death in our country," said William V. Corr, executive director of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. "As the Institute of Medicine and the President's Cancer Panel found, we know what works to reduce smoking, save lives and save money by reducing tobacco-related health care costs. What's needed is the political leadership to fund and implement these measures as aggressively as the tobacco companies continue to market their deadly and addictive products."

Tobacco use is the nation's leading preventable cause of death, killing more than 400,000 people and costing nearly $100 billion in health-care bills each year, the report said.

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