State foundation is moving ahead on prevention
A special state foundation is moving ahead with plans for youth smoking prevention initiatives despite uncertainties about how much money will be available.
The Virginia Tobacco Settlement Foundation, a 23-member group that controls 10 percent of the state's tobacco settlement money, voted yesterday to put about $15 million into smoking prevention programs. The allocation comes from Virginia's share of the settlement, estimated at $3 billion.
The foundation, made up mostly of doctors, legislators and public health officials, adopted a funding framework that will channel the money into three categories: About $5 million for a statewide advertising campaign; $9 million to community-based groups that seek to keep children from smoking; and $1 million for scientific research into the causes of smoking.
The foundation has struggled for more than a year to get organized and determine its goals, but its chairman said yesterday that he expects the group will be ready to dole out some money by March.
"This is not rocket science, but it is science," said Steven Danish, a professor of psychology and preventive medicine at Virginia Commonwealth University. "We needed to understand what the issues were. We're trying to do something that's going to work."
The group adopted its plans even as members struggled to understand the details of Gov. Jim Gilmore's proposal for the state's tobacco settlement money. Gilmore's proposal, which must win the support of the General Assembly, would essentially trade the state's right to get up to $3 billion from cigarette companies over the next 25 years in return for an upfront lump sum.
The state currently gets tobacco settlement payments in annual installments, and the foundation's share of the money has been estimated at about $300 million. According to information given to foundation members yesterday, the governor's plan would instead provide about $116.8 million upfront to establish an endowment that would support the foundation in future years.
Exactly how that would change the foundation's yearly funding was unclear yesterday, but Danish said the group will move ahead with its plans while the General Assembly debates the governor's proposal.
"We can advocate, but we don't have any control over that," said Danish. "We have to move on and do our job."
Under the framework adopted yesterday, the foundation will hire an advertising agency to conduct a smoking prevention campaign. The foundation also will identify "lead partners," agencies in five regions of Virginia that will help find local groups to provide smoking prevention programs.
A consortium of state universities will judge research proposals and allocate money for studies of tobacco addiction.
"Ultimately, you want to try to identify those genetic factors that lead to tobacco affliction," said Dr. Dennis DeSilvey, a cardiologist at the University of Virginia and a foundation member. "You could target your efforts at those families and those children who are most at risk."