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For immediate release -- Thursday, November 20, 2008.
Contact Bill Roach -- 515-281-5536

Miller: Cigarette Consumption at Lowest Level Since Before 1950

A.G. cites health improvement since tobacco agreement 10 years ago.

Ten years after state attorneys general and “Big Tobacco” reached a landmark agreement, cigarette smoking is down and attitudes about tobacco have changed for the better, Attorney General Tom Miller said Thursday. Miller was a leader of the Attorney Generals who advocated for the health reforms contained in the agreement that was signed ten years ago Sunday.

“The current consumption of cigarettes in this country is the lowest since we began keeping records in 1950,” Miller said. “The decline is even more impressive because the United States population has more than doubled since that time.” Miller said the “Master Settlement Agreement” of Nov. 23, 1998, contributed significantly to the progress.

Miller said U.S. annual consumption of cigarettes has declined by more than 135 billion over the past decade, according to the USDA. In 1997, the year before the MSA, 480 billion cigarettes were consumed in the United States. By 2007, that number had dropped to 360 billion, reflecting a nearly 25% decline. The projected rate for 2008 is even lower, 344 billion cigarettes -- a 28% decline since 1998.

Miller helped lead the states in reaching the “Master Settlement Agreement” with tobacco companies in November 1998. “The agreement has spawned a cultural shift in attitudes toward smoking,” Miller said, “and the result is less disease and fewer deaths in Iowa and around the nation. It is one of the most important accomplishments of my time as Iowa’s Attorney General.”

The Master Settlement Agreement (MSA), which is regarded as the largest legal settlement in the history of the world, marked the first major defeat of the tobacco industry, Miller said. “Before the agreement, Big Tobacco was considered invincible. Since the agreement, we have seen a steady decline in the use and acceptance of tobacco by the public.”

Miller noted that Iowa has benefitted from the settlement. The state’s share of the settlement to date exceeds $540 million. “Some of that money has been used to fund a strong and effective tobacco control program at the Iowa Department of Public Health,” Miller said. “In addition, Iowa has moved to reduce smoking by increasing the tax on tobacco and creating smoke-free public environments. As people are encouraged to quit, we need to be sure that we continue to have a strong and effective program that includes cessation help for those trying to quit. We’ve made great progress, but the work is not done.”

The Master Settlement Agreement imposes sweeping changes in tobacco advertising, bans tobacco companies from targeting children, allocates funding for tobacco education efforts and provides annual payments to the states based on the number of cigarettes sold in the country. The total of payments over 25 years is projected to be over $206 billion, and payments will continue as long as cigarettes are sold.

“The past ten years have changed the way we as a society view tobacco use,” Miller said. “One of the most important things the MSA accomplished was to change the way the tobacco companies market their products. It introduced protections and restrictions that were unheard of 10 years ago. The advertising restrictions reduced mainstream exposure to images of tobacco products, and with it, tolerance for exposure to cigarette smoke.”

The MSA was signed by the attorneys general of 52 jurisdictions and more than 40 tobacco companies. It was the result of a years-long legal battle in which attorneys general across the country filed lawsuits asking for restraints against the industry and monetary damages for state funds spent treating smoking-related illnesses. The attorneys general also accused the companies of marketing tobacco products to children and of concealing the dangers associated with tobacco use.

Miller said one of the MSA’s most important public health contributions was the creation of a national public health foundation dedicated to reducing tobacco use in the United States. Funding negotiated by the states created the American Legacy Foundation®, with the mission to build a world where young people reject tobacco and anyone can quit. Legacy has invested approximately $600 million in the nation’s most successful youth smoking prevention campaign, truth®, which has been credited with 22 percent of the overall decline in youth smoking during its first two years (from 2000-2002), according to an article published in the American Journal of Public Health.

“Public health was always at the heart of our lawsuits, and the MSA’s public health gains and marketing restrictions are its true benefits,” Attorney General Miller said.

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Graph showing decline in U.S. cigarette consumption     Graph showing decline in U.S. cigarette consumption