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SWAT > News and Events > Group: State Fails for Tobacco Program Cuts

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 praised.

"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," DeKoff said.

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.