May. 14 2002
Washington, DC — The Florida Legislature has taken a step in the right direction by providing $39.1 million for Fiscal Year 2003 for the state's highly successful tobacco prevention program after having cut funding to $29.8 million in FY2002. However, if Florida is to continue reducing the tremendous toll that tobacco use takes in lives and money, the state's leaders must further increase and sustain funding for tobacco prevention. The funding approved by the Legislature is less than half the minimum $78.4 million a year that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends Florida spend to have an effective, comprehensive tobacco prevention program, and it keeps in place cuts made in previous years. The most recent data released by the Florida Department of Health indicates that previous cuts have already reduced the program's effectiveness among middle school students. If Florida wants to continue to reduce youth smoking rates, the state must increase funding for the program to CDC-recommended levels and aggressively implement all its components.
Florida's tobacco prevention program has been a national model and has been achieving many benefits at little cost to taxpayers. Last year, the Department of Health reported that smoking was down 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, which total more $4.9 billion a year in Florida. And it is achieving these benefits without costing taxpayers a cent – the program is completely funded by just a fraction of the more than $700 million Florida will get in tobacco settlement money this year.
The best testament to the effectiveness of Florida's program is the fact that Philip Morris has asked the state to stop running some of its hard-hitting ‘truth' advertisements. Governor Jeb Bush's Adminstration and the Florida Division of Health Awareness and Tobacco should do just the opposite. Florida's prevention campaign has been highly successful because it speaks the truth to kids about how Philip Morris and the other tobacco companies have targeted them and deceived them about the harm caused by tobacco products. The Florida Tobacco Control Program should continue this aggressive approach that has been so successful in reducing tobacco use among Florida's kids.
Tobacco's toll in Florida is still devastating. 37,600 kids become regular, daily smokers every year, one-third of whom will die prematurely. Cigarettes kill more than 28,000 Floridians each year. Florida has led the nation in developing the equivalent of a vaccine that can protect kids from tobacco addiction and reduce deadly diseases such as lung cancer and heart disease. Florida has proved that this vaccine works and has an obligation to provide it to every generation of children. By increasing funding for tobacco prevention, the Legislature has taken a step in the right direction. However, to keep more kids from becoming addicted, save more lives and further reduce taxpayer health costs, more will have to be done.