Oct. 23 2001
Washington, DC — As the Florida Legislature and Governor Jeb Bush address the state's budget problems, today's report from the Florida Department of Health on the success of the state's tobacco prevention program points to the dire need to preserve funding for this highly successful but already diminished program. The data presented in the report demonstrate once again the incredible success of the state's innovative tobacco prevention program in reducing tobacco use among kids. However, the report also includes results that suggest diminished effectiveness of the program among younger Florida kids who were exposed to the program after its budget was cut nearly in half. These results indicate that more cuts would further undermine the program's effectiveness and could destroy it entirely.
Since the inception of the Florida tobacco prevention program, including the "truth" media campaign, in 1998, smoking has declined by 47 percent among Florida middle school students and by 30 percent among Florida high school students. This means that there are 75,000 fewer youth smokers in the state of Florida. Despite this overall success, the new data suggest that, due to program budget cuts and other factors, the program may not be reaching kids as effectively as it did in the early years. Declines in smoking among middle school students were not statistically significant in 2001. Of even greater concern, however, is the fact that there was a substantially greater increase in 2001 in the proportion of students becoming smokers as they moved from 6th to 7th grade and from 7th to 8th grade compared to previous years. These findings indicate that the program may have had its biggest impact at the height of its funding level and that the impact is not being felt among Florida kids now entering the most vulnerable years for becoming smokers.
It is incredibly disturbing that, given these results, Florida's leaders are considering further draconian cuts to this highly successful program. Despite its early success in reducing youth smoking, the tobacco prevention program's budget has already been cut nearly in half, with seemingly negative impacts on Florida's most vulnerable children. This fiscal year, the state will receive over $700 million in tobacco settlement payments. Without further cuts, Florida would still be spending less than six percent of this amount on tobacco prevention. Even under the current budget scenario, further cuts to a program that is funded with no taxpayer dollars and that will actually save the state lives and dollars simply defy reason.