News and Events > Teens Chase
Funds, Law to Fight Smoking
July 4, 2004
Ah, the giddy glory days of the war against Big Tobacco.
It seems like only yesterday, but it has been six years since Florida
was at the vanguard of the battle. After a landmark $13 billion
settlement that was one of the legacies of the late Gov. Lawton
Chiles, Students Working Against Tobacco -- or SWAT -- was born.
The program received millions in its early years and was noted for
clever campaigns and actions to show youngsters that tobacco was
dangerous. By all accounts the guerrilla brawl was successful.
Perhaps too successful. Funding started decreasing when Republicans
took over in Tallahassee. For the second year running, state legislators
have given the program $1 million. This year there are more strings
attached, such as limits on money for those effective, catchy anti-tobacco
campaigns, local SWAT members say.
The belt-tightening during the budget process even brought a quick
rebuke from Gov. Jeb Bush, who had sought $16 million. (And even
that was considerably less than funding during the "good"
years.) No deal.
Worse: SWAT faces privatization. It could be SWAT's death sentence.
Osceola County SWAT members remain committed. They met last week
in the bowels of the Health Department building to map out strategies
for the coming year. Grants, fund-raisers and of course, advocacy,
are on the list.
Here's a great example of our youth in action. Members are committed.
Brandon Nelson is a senior at Gateway High. He's been involved in
SWAT since the sixth grade. He seems like a bright guy who's learning
how the system works.
Sasha Willey is a seventh-grader at Parkway Middle. She got involved
to become articulate and self-confident. Hearing her speak, I'd
say mission accomplished.
Tanya Castin and Vanessa Jean-Pierre are from Poinciana, which had
the largest membership of any school club during the recent school
year. Sharon Herskowitz will be a freshman at Gateway when school
starts and is SWAT chairperson. All seem passionate at a time of
the year when most kids are working summer jobs or just hanging
Members will make a pitch to county commissioners later this year.
SWAT wants the county to enact an ordinance to get tobacco products
out of the view of minors.
A similar effort was turned away in 2001 when county officials said
enforcement of such a law was better left to the state. But SWAT
members have collected more than 1,000 signatures and point to the
fact 59 counties have such ordinances in place.
The ordinance wouldn't affect tobacco sales. It's already illegal
to sell tobacco products to minors, yet SWAT members say the proposal
would cut underage tobacco use by reducing product awareness. Tobacco
companies find a way to target youths, they say. Someone notes smokeless
tobacco samples were given away during the recent Xtreme Auto Xpo
at Osceola Heritage Park, a county facility.
Big Tobacco needs new users. The only way to decrease tobacco use
is to counter recruitment efforts.
It's war. Supporting SWAT cuts down on the casualties. Sadly, after
years on the offensive, SWAT is fighting for its life. I'm rooting
for survival and revival.