Millions fund ads, programs
When the Washington State Department of Health asked students in Pasco and elsewhere in the state what would make them nonsmokers, the kids went for shock value -- nasty and gross.
You'll be seeing the commercials they picked all over television this winter as the state spends $4 million in tobacco settlement money to buy television and radio commercials.
In one, Debi smokes through a hole in her throat.
"They say nicotine isn't addictive," she says in a raspy voice as she fits the cigarette into a surgical hole in her throat and inhales. "How can they say that?"
In another, a surgeon dangles the slimy pink aorta removed from a young man who smoked, explaining that smoking makes fat stick to the inside of the body's main artery walls. The camera zooms in on the stomach-turning pile of lumpy, yellow fatty deposits he's squeezed from the aorta.
The commercials are among the first use of $15 million from a settlement with tobacco companies sued for illegal marketing of cigarettes to minors.
Over the next 25 years, Washington will receive an estimated $4.5 billion from the tobacco industry as the state's share of the national tobacco settlement. Of the initial $320 million sent to the state, $100 million has been set aside in a fund to fight tobacco use and the initial $15 million withdrawn.
Most of the money will be spent for statewide programs, starting with the media campaign.
"People ask me why television (and) radio, and I tell them, 'Because it works,' " said Dr. Robert Jaffe, chairman of the Washington Medical Association's smoking cessation task force. "The states that have had the most dramatic impact on reducing the level of smoking in both teen and adult populations are those that have run the most aggressive media campaigns."
The Department of Health picked commercials based on focus groups of youth and adults in eight communities, including Pasco. They'll be aired on Mid-Columbia affiliates of CBS, NBC, ABC and Fox and three radio stations, including a Spanish-language version on KZZM-FM.
Another $4 million of the settlement money is being distributed to community-based programs.
In the Tri-Cities, a new agency called Tobacco Free Benton-Franklin Counties, will use $76,595 to convince people, particularly youth, not to start smoking and to reach groups, such as Hispanics, who may not be hearing a strong anti-smoking message.
It's focusing on students because 90 percent of new smokers are children or teens. While most think they can quit, 75 percent of high school smokers are still using tobacco seven years later. State statistics also show students in Eastern Washington are more likely to smoke than those elsewhere in Washington.
"It's a pediatrics disease in terms of onset," said Mary Frost, chronic disease director for the state Department of Health.
Tobacco Free is training and sending high school students into middle schools with an anti-smoking message. Students in middle school are at an age when they're experimenting but still open to messages, particularly from older students, said Amy Ward, program director of Tobacco Free.
Some of the high school students will be talking from firsthand experience after completing smoking cessation classes.
Tobacco Free also is encouraging high schools to send students caught smoking to cessation classes as part of their punishment, and it can help schools arrange eight-week classes for students.
"It is an addictive product, and by high school, they may be addicted," Ward said. "Punishing them is not going to help them quit."
As part of Tobacco Free's second focus, the group plans to target information to Hispanics, including those who don't speak English or are farm or migrant laborers. Studies have found smokers tend to have less education or lower incomes than nonsmokers.
Tobacco Free wants to work with groups such as Community Health Center LaClinica that already serve Hispanics to get its anti-smoking message out. It wants to make sure smoking cessation classes, pamphlets and advertising are available in Spanish.
What's now Tobacco Free was once based at the Substance Abuse Coalition but now will focus entirely on anti-tobacco programs. It's backed by about 15 agencies, ranging from the Benton Franklin District Health Department to school districts.
The United Way is donating space at its Kennewick office, and the Kennewick Public Hospital District is managing the group's money. That's kept overhead costs minimal, stretching settlement dollars received here further.
"It has been frustrating to see some of the bigger or more high-profile counties get more money," Ward said.
The state divided money based on population and the amount of other anti-tobacco money they had received in other programs in the past. The assumption was counties with well-established programs already would make the most efficient use of settlement money.
For instance, King County received base funding of $25,000 and then 32 cents per person, while Benton County received slightly less in base funding and 16 cents per person.
However, the state points out that while half the money for community-based programs ended up in six counties, those counties have more than half the state's population.
Other state money to fight tobacco use also is coming to Benton and Franklin counties, including money from tobacco license fees, which goes to the health department, and money that originates with the Centers for Disease Control, which goes to the Substance Abuse Coalition.
The state also is using the $15 million tobacco settlement for programs beyond commercials and community-based programs.
They include programs to prevent the sale of tobacco to minors, school-based programs and a statewide telephone Quit Line. The Quit Line will offer help starting in mid-November in Spanish and English.
For more information on services and resources available from Tobacco Free, call 374-8742.