News and Events > Group: State
Fails for Tobacco Program Cuts
By DAVID ROYSE
The Associated Press
TALLAHASSEE -- The American Lung Association on Tuesday gave Florida
an "F" for cutting $69 million from a $70 million program
aimed at fighting youth cigarette use.
Gov. Jeb Bush asked lawmakers last year to spend about $38 million
on the Tobacco Prevention and Control program, but the Legislature
only put $1 million in the budget, citing a tough economy.
Most of the money that was cut would have gone into a program that
uses students to try to dissuade their peers from smoking. The initiative,
known as Students Working Against Tobacco, or SWAT, has been widely
"The infrastructure of what was once a national model was dismantled,"
said Adrian Abner, a freshman at Florida A&M University who
is a former leader of SWAT.
Abner said Bush has personally promised him to push for more money
for the program, which the governor has said he strongly supports.
"We will hold him to that," said Belle DeKoff, president
of the American Lung Association of Florida. DeKoff said funding
should be restored to $39 million, about where it was in 2002.
But it's the Legislature that has cut the program.
And Sen. Durell Peaden, R-Crestview, a doctor who heads the Senate
committee that writes the health care budget, said he doubts the
money will be available in a year when there are what he considers
more pressing needs, including health insurance for poor children
and prescription drug help for seniors.
Peaden said the antismoking program needs to be redesigned to move
away from advertising -- which is expensive -- to basic anti-tobacco
education in schools. He said the current program amounts to "throwing
money at it."
"If you don't have any money, somebody should still be there
to teach it," Peaden said. "It's not like nobody's going
to learn it if you don't have $50 million.
"We really have got to teach the kids about the harms"
of smoking, Peaden said.
DeKoff notes that the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
estimates that Florida should spend even more than the Lung Association
is asking for -- close to $80 million on juvenile antismoking programs.
"We are now one of the worst in the nation when it comes to
protecting our children from becoming addicted to tobacco,"
The state Department of Health has given the state's antismoking
program part of the credit for dramatic drops in youth smoking in
recent years. State figures show high school smoking decreased by
about 35 percent from 1998 to 2002 and that smoking by middle schoolers
has been cut in half.
The Lung Association specifically gave an "F" to Florida's
prevention and control spending, but also gave the state a failing
grade on how much it taxes cigarettes. Florida taxes cigarettes
at about 34 cents a pack, ranking the state 41st in the nation.
Higher taxes discourage young smokers, the group says.
It gave Florida a "D" for how it controls youth access
to cigarettes, citing the state's lack of requirement that shopkeepers
ask young-looking customers for photo identification to buy cigarettes.
The state also doesn't have random inspections, the groups said.
The state got a "B" from the Lung Association for having
smoke-free air because of the recent amendment preventing smoking
in most workplaces.
Restoring the money for prevention, though, is the group's focus.