Dec. 6 2001
Washington, DC — While it does not cut funding for tobacco prevention as much as earlier plans, the budget agreement reached between the Florida Legislature and Governor Jeb Bush is still a victory for the tobacco industry and a defeat for Florida's kids and taxpayers. This budget reduces the cut to Florida's highly successful tobacco prevention from $14.5 million to $7.5 million. However, the current tobacco prevention budget of $37.3 million will still be cut by 20 percent, far more than the budget as a whole. This does not represent shared sacrifice in balancing the budget and will further undermine the effectiveness of a program that has already been slashed nearly in half since it was started in 1998. Florida will pay a high price for this irresponsible and shortsighted decision. More kids will become addicted to tobacco, more lives will be lost and taxpayers will pay more to treat smoking-caused disease. Governor Bush and the Legislature should restore funding for tobacco prevention at the earliest opportunity during the next legislative session.
It is incomprehensible that Florida's leaders would undermine a program that is a national model and has achieved so many benefits for Florida at so little cost to taxpayers. As the state Department of Health reported recently, Florida has reduced smoking by 47 percent among middle school students and 30 percent among high school students since starting its program in 1998. This decline represents nearly 75,000 fewer Florida youth smokers and more than 24,000 fewer premature deaths linked to smoking. The program is also saving taxpayers millions of dollars in health costs related to smoking. And it is achieving these benefits without costing taxpayers a cent — the program is completely funded by less than 6 percent of the more than $700 million Florida will get in tobacco settlement money this year.
However, the Health Department results also showed that previous budget cuts have already begun to reduce the program's effectiveness. These results showed diminished effectiveness among younger kids reached after the program's budget was cut in half. Unless quickly reversed, the latest cuts will compound this damage.
It's also clear that cutting tobacco prevention is penny-wise and pound-foolish. Tobacco-related health care expenditures cost Florida and its taxpayers $4.6 billion a year. If adequately funded and sustained over time, tobacco prevention programs can substantially reduce these costs. The experience of California and Massachusetts, which have two of the nation's oldest tobacco prevention programs, show that states can save as much as $8 in smoking-caused health care costs for every dollar they spend on tobacco prevention. Even in these difficult budget times, tobacco prevention is one of the smartest and most fiscally responsible investments that Florida can make. It is a disservice to Florida's taxpayers, and its kids, that the state's leaders chose to do otherwise.