News and Events > Bush pressured
to boost fight against tobacco
By Diane Hirth
DEMOCRAT CAPITOL BUREAU
Pressure is growing on Gov. Jeb Bush to revive Florida's efforts
to keep kids from getting the cigarette habit.
Anti-smoking activists on Tuesday demanded that the governor not
only recommend at least $39 million next year for the prevention
program - but also fight for it. Currently the state is spending
$1 million to prevent children from becoming addicted to nicotine.
"We look to him to deliver on that promise," said Adrian
Abner, a Florida A&M University student and former state chairman
of Students Working Against Tobacco (SWAT).
"If you look at the Florida report card on tobacco control,
it's clear that Big Tobacco is still alive and well in the state
of Florida," said Brenda Olsen, assistant chief executive officer
of the American Lung Association of Florida.
Florida received two F's on the tobacco report card released Tuesday
by the Lung Association - one for poor funding of the tobacco prevention
program, reduced from its one-time high of $70 million, and the
other for being 41st among the states in taxing tobacco. The state
got a D for policing youth access to tobacco and a B for smoke-free
air in public places.
Jim McDonough, director of the Governor's Office of Drug Control,
countered: "We have a pretty good record on bringing tobacco
He pointed to sharp drops in smoking by sixth- to 12th-graders in
Florida. In the past three years, the number of middle-school students
who said they regularly puffed on cigarettes fell from 12.5 percent
to 6.8 percent, according to a state survey. For high schoolers,
the number fell from 23.3 percent to 15.4 percent.
At the same time he acknowledged "that $1 million was a ridiculously
low figure. It was almost like adding to the insult. I don't think
it will stay at $1 million....I think Gov. Bush is fighting hard
to bring it up."
Bush recommended $39 million for the program last year, but the
Legislature appropriated $1 million.
Edgy TV ads gone
Florida's pilot tobacco prevention program was nationally acclaimed
for its edgy TV ads that compared tobacco executives to mass murderers
and for its activist SWAT teams.
But with the funding decrease went the tobacco control coordinators
once assigned to every county in Florida. Gone is the $15 million
marketing campaign. Vanished as well are $7 million for classroom
materials and $1 million to help minority communities kick the tobacco
Only some areas still have active SWAT chapters, though there will
be a statewide SWAT summit in February.
"We do not have SWAT here," confirmed Damon Sullivan,
school resource officer at RAA Middle School.
The money comes from tobacco companies, which agreed in the 1997
settlement with Florida to pay $13 billion over 25 years to compensate
taxpayers for smoking-related Medicaid costs. This year's tobacco
funds for Florida are almost $400 million. Most of it is being used
for other health programs.
'A work in progress'
Four months after all state agencies submitted their budget requests
for fiscal 2004, the Department of Health remains silent on what
increase it will recommend to the governor for the tobacco prevention
program. The governor's proposed budget is due later this month.
Calling future funding a "work in progress," Health Department
Secretary John Agwunobi said Tuesday, "I recognize and acknowledge
that $1 million is not enough to maintain and develop a tobacco
State Sen. Durrell Peaden, R-Crestview, a doctor and chairman of
the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Health and Human Services,
says he will be looking for a redesigned, modestly priced tobacco
prevention program that concentrates on anti-smoking education -
student to student and teacher to pupil.
"We need to invest in (anti-tobacco) education...not blow it
on advertising," Peaden said.