Anti-tobacco campaign defends endowment as Legislature eyes it
ST. PAUL (AP) -- Leaders of a campaign to reduce teen smoking in Minnesota are touting their achievements as lawmakers eye the group' s multimillion dollar endowment to pay for programs.
The Legislature created the $590 million endowment in 1998 after a $6.1 billion settlement with tobacco companies, and the state Health Department was authorized to use interest from the fund for tobacco prevention and cessation programs.
Target Market, the $6.4 million program for fighting teen smoking, recruits teens through rock concerts, skateboard contests and other events, painting the tobacco industry as evil for going after youths.
But this year, legislators face a looming budget shortfall, and even a portion of the endowment would pay a lot of bills, from nursing homes to schools to road construction sites.
Two proposals pending in the House would take $347 million from the endowment -- $325 million for the budget shortfall, and $22 million for anti-terrorism programs.
Rep. Kevin Goodno, R-Moorhead, chief sponsor of the bill to use the endowment to fill the budget hole, said many in the House are uncomfortable with the anti-smoking campaign.
" They are trying to teach kids that the tobacco companies are manipulating them, " he said. " But (Target Market) is manipulating the kids. So who is going to manipulate them, the Department of Health or the tobacco industry?"
Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said she believes in Target Market. Lawmakers are wrong to think anti-tobacco marketing " should be talking about tobacco being bad rather than the industry being bad, " she said.
The strategy has shown some success, according to a Target Marketing survey of 1, 000 teens in August. The survey found that smoking among teens declined 25 percent in one year.
Other research suggests kids are seeing as much cigarette advertising as ever.
A study in the March/April issue of the journal Health Affairs says that in 2000, tobacco companies were still targeting teens through magazine ads, despite a 1998 agreement with Minnesota and 45 other states not to do so.
Officials from R.J. Reynolds Co. and Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp. disputed the findings, and said their companies are complying with the 1998 agreement.
Malcolm said the new research about the industry' s advertising practices underscores the need for countermeasures. " It looks as though the tobacco industry is quite willfully not complying with either the letter or the spirit of the agreement" that it signed in 1998, she said.