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SWAT > News and Events > Legislature's Tobacco Habit

Industry influence apparent in demise of anti-smoking program

Florida politicians spend millions on TV commercials for their re-election campaigns -- and achieve dubious results. But when they're asked to fund a widely praised advertising program that's made a demonstrable difference in teen smoking rates, they're suddenly cost-conscious.

For the second year in a row, the Legislature has held funding for the state's anti- smoking program -- including a series of edgy TV commercials -- to $1 million.

That's $15 million less than what Gov. Jeb Bush requested, $39 million less than what health officials say is needed to preserve the program's effectiveness, and $69 million less than what the program got in 1998.

There's little dispute that the program has been useful. A state survey indicates tobacco use dropped 37 percent among high school students and 57 percent among middle school students between 1998 and 2003.

Late in this year's session, Bush tried but failed to rally his GOP colleagues to boost the amount. "There's ample money to be able to fund this program," he said. Indeed, there is -- from the $410 million the state receives yearly from the 1998 legal settlement with the tobacco industry.

But for reasons that seem to escape even Bush, lawmakers aren't willing to honor a pledge to use those funds for smoking-related health programs. "I'm not sure why there is this abject hostility toward the tobacco-prevention program," Bush said.

The mystery may not be so tough to solve. The tobacco industry contributed close to $4 million to lawmakers, state officials and their parties between 1998 and 2002. That, of course, buys a lot of campaign commercials -- and influence.