Anti-Smoking Bill Advances
Lincoln - Hard-hitting anti-smoking promotions, made by teen-agers for teen-agers, soon may be coming to Nebraska.
A measure that would provide $500,000 a year to youth-driven campaigns advanced Thursday to the second of three rounds of debate in the Nebraska Legislature on a 28-7 vote.
"We know kids listen to kids. They know what works," said State Sen. Ardyce Bohlke of Hastings, the sponsor of Legislative Bill 1436.
She based her bill, in part, on a similar program in Florida that was credited with reducing teen-age smoking by 20 percent last year. In one Florida commercial, a group of teen-age girls are shown making a prank telephone call to a tobacco executive.
"What is the lucky part about Lucky Strike cigarettes?" the girls ask.
"Is it that I might live?"
Although most lawmakers agreed with the bill's goals, the measure was not without critics.
Some said it did not go far enough to address the growing crisis of teen-age smokers. The biggest criticism, however, was that it "raided" a tobacco-settlement trust fund that had been established two years ago to provide grants for public health projects.
"It has destroyed that whole grant process," said State Sen. Jim Jensen of Omaha. "The grant program doesn't mean anything - you can go to the Legislature and get it funded out of there."
The Excellence in Health Care Trust Fund was established to provide continuous dollars for public health programs. Its funds will come, in part, from the state's $1.17 billion share of a national settlement with tobacco companies, which will be paid out over 25 years.
A six-member council will oversee the fund and will approve grants for a wide variety of health-care programs such as prenatal programs and programs aimed at reducing teen-age pregnancies. It also could be used to fund stop-smoking programs.
The council is expected to award its first grant this summer. Only interest from the fund, which is expected to amount to about $7 million in October, will be awarded.
"This is too early in the process to begin opening up the trust fund - no matter how worthy the cause," said State Sen. Nancy Thompson of Papillion.
Thompson was among about a half-dozen lawmakers who felt the bill could be the beginning of the end of the trust fund. "If I ever saw a slippery slope, we're looking at one. It's covered with ice," said Sen. Dennis Byars of Beatrice.
Jensen said he supported the goal of Bohlke's bill but thought that it should have competed for grants like any other project submitted to the trust fund council.
Bohlke disagreed that her bill was the end of the trust fund.