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Remarks on the Launch of The Real Cost Campaign

Remarks by Margaret A. Hamburg, M.D.
Commissioner of Food and Drugs
National Press Club
Washington, DC
February 4, 2014

Thank you and good morning everyone. Pleasure to be here for this very important occasion.

Each year, more than 480,000 Americans lose their lives to tobacco-related illness. While progress has been made over the years, tobacco use remains the leading cause of preventable disease and death in this country.

The need to further educate about the health consequences of tobacco has never been greater.

In 2009, President Obama and bipartisan support in Congress gave the FDA unprecedented responsibility to protect American consumers by giving the agency the authority to regulate tobacco products. 

The Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act also gave the FDA the authority to educate the public about the harms of tobacco use. 

Today is a historic moment for the FDA as we launch our first national public education campaign designed to reduce and prevent tobacco use among our country’s youth.

Many of you in this room know the harsh facts: 

  • Tobacco causes more deaths than alcohol, illegal drug use, homicides, suicides, car accidents and AIDS combined.
  • Tobacco use also costs America at least $289 billion annually in healthcare costs and lost productivity.
  • Tobacco use is almost always initiated and becomes entrenched during adolescence. Consider this staggering figure — close to 90 percent of established adult smokers smoked their first cigarette by age 18. This is why early intervention is critical.
  • And although trends in youth smoking over the past six years have decreased—the prevalence of youth ages 12-17 who reported any smoking in the past 30 days has declined from 13.1 percent to 8.7 percent—the decline has slowed during recent years. And this percentage still remains too high.
  •  Every day, more than 3,200 kids under the age of 18 try their first cigarette, and another 700 teens become daily smokers.

Despite decades of warnings on the dangers of smoking, nearly 42 million adults and more than 3.5 million middle and high school students continue to smoke cigarettes.

That’s why we’re here. For the past three years, the agency has been working on an ambitious and thought-provoking public education campaign targeting at-risk youth ages 12-17 that will vividly demonstrate and highlight, through a series of advertisements, health consequences of tobacco use that are relevant to youth.

At its heart, this campaign is about reaching kids who are the on-the-cusp youth smokers – teens who have already experimented or who are just one party away from smoking.

While most teens understand the serious health risks associated with tobacco use, they often don’t believe these long-term consequences will ever apply to them.

We will highlight some of the real costs and health consequences associated with tobacco use by focusing on some of the things that really matter to teens -- their outward appearance and having control and independence over their lives.

You’ll be hearing more about the particulars of the campaign shortly, but I’m excited because at our core we’re a science-based regulatory agency with a public health mission and to that end, the advertising for the campaign was developed using the best available science to understand and reach our country’s youth who are most at risk of becoming regular smokers.

I want to personally take a moment to thank all of your for coming this morning and for your work on this critical public health issue. This is an important milestone for the agency and you are all important partners in this endeavor.

With this campaign, we take another step towards making tobacco-related disease, disability and death a part of America’s past, not its future.

Eliminating the burden of death, disability and disease from tobacco use is a long journey, but this step is an essential one. Almost two decades ago, in January 1995, when I was Health Commissioner in NYC, I had the opportunity to help design and implement one of the very first major bans on smoking in virtually all public places. And I have been deeply committed to addressing the toll of tobacco disease and prevalence takes ever since. That’s what this campaign is about.

As a physician, a public health professional and as the mother of teenage kids, I know how important this campaign is.