Youth tobacco prevention program urged
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP)- A group promoting tobacco-free youth urged state officials Monday to pump $30 million into a prevention and cessation program to attack Oklahomaâ€™s status as one of the nationâ€™s leaders in youth tobacco use.
Thereâ€™s no denying that tobacco prevention works, Charles Wolfe, executive vice president and chief operating officer of the American Legacy Foundation, said at a news conference where he discussed a successful prevention program in Florida.
They donâ€™t work if you donâ€™t fund them, Wolfe said.
Oklahoma has one of the highest youth tobacco use rates in the nation, with 42 percent of high school students and 21 percent of middle school students using some form of tobacco, Wolfe said.
In addition, as many people die from tobacco use every three days in Oklahoma as were killed in the May 3 tornadoes, in which 44 died.
Thatâ€™s a tornado every three days, Wolfe said.
Wolfe urged state officials to use a portion of Oklahomaâ€™s share of the nationwide tobacco lawsuit settlement to fully fund a comprehensive tobacco prevention program. Oklahoma is scheduled to receive more than $2 billion from big tobacco over the next 25 years.
Now you have rewards from the lawsuit, and itâ€™s time to do something with it, he said.
Oklahoma has already received about $56 million in tobacco money. The money has been made available for appropriation, but Attorney General Drew Edmondson and others want future revenues placed in a trust fund and the interest used to fund health-care and tobacco prevention programs.
A similar program in Florida has shown a two-year decline in cigarette use that represents 79,760 fewer Florida youth smokers and about 26,320 fewer premature deaths attributable to smoking.
Florida, which will receive $13 billion in tobacco settlement money, appropriates $50 million a year to its youth prevention program, Wolfe said.
This is a difficult problem. Itâ€™s difficult for a Legislature to take on, said Mike Smith, executive director of the Florida Center for Tobacco Education.
The Legislature is caught with a lot of different needs, Smith said.