Progress in Stamping Out Smoking Has Stalled

In West Virginia, 68.8 percent of the people said they do not allow smoking in their home, as did 85.7 percent of those living in the U.S. Virgin Islands.

"Still, half the people in this country are not protected by comprehensive smoke-free laws," Frieden noted.

The CDC maintains that passing more smoke-free laws and encouraging people not to smoke at home could go a long way toward reducing the danger to nonsmokers from secondhand smoke.

On the plus side, Frieden noted that in 2009, the federal tobacco tax was raised and some states are also raising their tobacco tax. "We know that those increases make a big difference," he said.

In addition, more places are becoming smoke-free, he said. "Going smoke-free not only protects the health of nonsmokers but also encourages smokers to quit," Freiden said.

He added that the U.S. health-care system needs to better encourage people to quit smoking. "If you want to quit, you can double your chances by getting medicine or counseling or both," Frieden said.

Stanton A. Glantz, professor of medicine and director of the Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education at the University of California, San Francisco, agreed that underfunded state tobacco-control programs are at the heart of the problem.

"The pro-tobacco forces around the country have used the fiscal mess to justify whacking state tobacco programs," he said. "The tobacco companies are still out there spending around $15 billion a year promoting their products, and the money being spent by public health in de-promoting it has been cut back dramatically."

Glantz's group has also just released a report that takes states to task for allowing film companies to promote smoking in movies -- many of which get state tax breaks and other financial concessions to help with their production.

"Movies are now getting a very large subsidy from state government, adding up to about a quarter of their total production costs, giving the public a really direct interest in those movies," Glantz said. "They are now actually spending more money subsidizing movies that promote smoking than they are spending on their state anti-smoking programs."

As a condition of granting these subsidies, the states should not grant them to films being made for the youth market that promote smoking, Glantz said.

"If these studios are going to be at the trough taking taxpayer's money, they shouldn't be using it to sell cigarettes," he said.

About half the exposure to smoking that children get comes from youth-rated films, he said.

"Smoking in the movies causes kids to smoke," Glantz said. "The more smoking they see in films, the more they smoke."

Many American smokers do want to quit, but a survey of these would-be quitters released Thursday by the American Cancer Society found that many are not well-prepared for the effort it may take.

The survey, involving visitors to the Great American Smokeout Web site, found that 22 percent said they planned to quit over the next 24 hours and 30 percent planned to quit "within a week or two."

The Cancer Society stresses that planning ahead -- getting nicotine replacement aids, for example, and figuring out how to deal with cravings -- is crucial to kicking the habit.

More information

There's more on quitting smoking at the American Cancer Society's Great American Smokeout Web site.

SOURCES: Thomas Frieden, M.D., director, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta; Stanton A. Glantz, Ph.D., professor, medicine, and director, Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education, University of California, San Francisco; Nov. 13, 2009, CDC, Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report; Nov. 12, 2009, press release, American Cancer Society

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