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SWAT > News and Events > Antitobacco Group Presses Governor To Restore Funding

Tampa Tribune, January 7, 2004


TALLAHASSEE - The state's leading antitobacco group Tuesday called on Gov. Jeb Bush to fulfill a promise he made to restore funding for a youth smoking prevention and control program after drastic budget cuts over the past few years.

The program, which spent $37 million last year from the state's landmark legal settlement with cigarette manufacturers, was allocated $1 million this year. Bush promised at the time to seek increased funding during the 2004 legislative session.

"We've acted on the assurances of our governor that he would fight to restore funding - if we could just hang on,'' said Adrian Abner, a former leader of Students Working Against Tobacco who has met with Bush to discuss the issue. "He made a promise - both publicly and to me personally - and we look to him to deliver on that promise.''

One of many services cut by Republican leaders set on crafting a "no-new-taxes'' budget, the program won't survive unless Bush and the Legislature revive the cash-strapped program, according to the American Lung Association of Florida. Advocates say $39 million is needed to restore the program.

Bush spokesman Jacob DiPietre said Tuesday the governor is committed to youth smoking prevention efforts, but wouldn't say exactly how much will be proposed.

Since 1998 lawmakers have used a portion of Florida's $13 billion settlement with the tobacco industry to pay for statewide youth tobacco prevention.

The state receives about $365 million annually as compensation for years of footing medical bills for sick smokers. Although a portion of the money is intended for prevention and control programs, lawmakers eager to avoid tax increases have diverted it to social programs while eliminating "nonessential'' services.

And while they argued the state's youth antitobacco efforts were successful in curbing youth smoking - down from 25 percent in 1998 to 11.5 percent in 2003 - the antitobacco lobby warned lawmakers against banking on continued declines if prevention continues to be underfunded.

" You can't throw out a quick fix and think it's going to sustain over the years,'' said Brenda Olsen, director of governmental affairs for Florida's American Lung Association.