Florida program working to reduce underage smoking
Teen smoking has long been a problem in the United States and as a result, allegations have been lodged against Big Tobacco that they were targeting children in their ads.
As a result, several advertising campaigns have been changed, but teens continue to smoke at a higher rate than they did ten years ago. Nationally, according to the CDC, in 1991, 28 percent of high school students were smokers. In 1999, that number had jumped to 35 percent.
Despite a $250 billion dollar windfall as a result of lawsuits against the tobacco company, the major hindrance to anti-smoking campaigns nationwide has been funding.
Here in Florida, we spend as much as anyone in the country on anti-smoking campaigns and we have had amazing success recently with the Truth campaign. Since the state began using tobacco settlement money to curb teen smoking in 1998, smoking is down 40 percent among middle school students and 18 percent among teens in high school.
However, even with this success rate, the program has had trouble retaining funding. After getting more than $93 million in the programâ€™s first two years, lawmakers wanted to cut all funding in 2000. However, they finally did agree to spend $44 million. Nevertheless, the cut in funding forced 10 people to lose their jobs and reduced the number of radio and tv ads.
The funding problem is being felt by other states too, as only about 8 percent of the initial payments from the tobacco settlement is being used to fund anti-smoking efforts.
In addition to an advertising campaign, the effort in Florida includes youth groups and education. The effort centers around the message that big tobacco represents a sinister authority figure that is trying to manipulate kids.
The 'in your face' approach was born here in Florida at a youth summit in March, 1998. That gathering brought 600 children together from around the state to try and figure out a more effective approach to reach children with the anti-smoking message. The kids said that they were tired of hearing the health messages and that they all knew tobacco was bad for your health. It was there that the first 'Truth' ads were filmed, with teens sending a message to big tobacco to listen up.
Chuck Wolfe was formerly the director of the Florida Tobacco Pilot Program and was in charge when the ads began. He has since taken the message national, and now heads the American Legacy Foundation, which is funded by the tobacco settlement. Those 'Truth' ads now run around the country and were prominent during the Olympics.
In addition to advertising and education, Florida passed a law in 1998 that says that children under 18 can get their license suspended if they are caught with tobacco.
Just this week, the Broward Sheriffâ€™s Office got a $60,000 grant from the Florida Division of Alcohol, Tobacco and Beverages to provide overtime funding for 106 special operations aimed at finding and citing those under the age of 18 that are in possession of tobacco products. 64 of those operations will also target stores selling cigarettes to minors.
In addition, BSO is getting help from the Truancy Task Force, who normally only rounds up kids that are skipping school. Now, however, they will be issuing notices to appear in court to kids who also have tobacco in their possession.
Penalties for being underage and having tobacco will include fines, community service and as a last resort, driverâ€™s license suspension.
In 1999, BSO issued 69 citations for retail violations and 17 citations for possession of tobacco by an underage person. With the help of the Truancy Task Force, BSO expects those numbers to go way up this year.