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Tobacco Industry Wins, Kids and Taxpayers Lose as Florida Legislature Decimates Tobacco Prevention; Gov. Bush Should Exercise Veto and Restore Funding

Statement of Matthew L. Myers, President Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids
October 25, 2001

Washington, DC — The tobacco industry won and Florida's kids and taxpayers lost today when the Legislature voted to cut funding for Florida's highly successful tobacco prevention program by a third. This cut of $12.5 million out of a budget of $37.3 million comes on top of cuts of 47 percent that have already been made since the program started in 1998. It is now up to Governor Jeb Bush whether Florida's tobacco prevention program survives.

We call on Governor Bush to exercise his line-item veto authority and restore funding for tobacco prevention. Governor Bush has called for 'shared sacrifice' in balancing Florida's budget, and in a recent letter he stated he was an 'avid supporter' of Florida's tobacco prevention program, adding that 'these critically important efforts to protect youth from the addictive hazards of tobacco remain among my top priorities.' The cuts made by the Legislature to tobacco prevention make a farce of shared sacrifice. While the entire budget is being cut by less than two percent, funding for tobacco prevention would be cut by 33 percent. Coming on top of the deep cuts already made to the program, the new cuts would devastate Florida's program and leave its kids and taxpayers unprotected from the costs of tobacco.

It is incomprehensible that Florida's legislators would act to destroy a program that is a national model and has achieved so many benefits for Florida at so little cost to the state's taxpayers. As the Florida Department of Health reported this week, since starting its program in 1998, Florida has reduced smoking by 47 percent among middle school students and 30 percent among high school students. 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 Florida's tobacco settlement.

Only the tobacco industry loses because of tobacco prevention, and it has contributed more than $790,000 to Florida's political parties and politicians since 1997 in order to kill tobacco control efforts such as the tobacco prevention program. It is unconscionable that today Florida's lawmakers did the bidding of the tobacco industry at the expense of Florida's kids and taxpayers. Now Governor Bush faces the same choice: protect our kids or protect Big Tobacco.