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    Teen anti-smoking program effective despite budget

    A nationwide study praises Florida's "Truth'' campaign but decries funding cuts.

    By STEPHEN HEGARTY

    © St. Petersburg Times, published January 12, 2001


    Florida's edgy "Truth" campaign has lost some of its edge -- and a chunk of its funding. But the multimillion-dollar anti-smoking campaign still is among the nation's most effective at reducing teen smoking.

    That's according to a report released Thursday by the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids, which evaluated anti-smoking campaigns nationwide and found that many states were not spending tobacco settlement money on prevention.

    But the president of the campaign said he's concerned that Florida's program will lose effectiveness because of a funding reduction.

    "Florida has been a model for the rest of the nation," said Matthew L. Myers, campaign president. "That's the tragedy when you see the program funds being reduced. This is the most successful public health program Florida has ever had. The decision to reduce funding makes no sense."

    Florida's Health Department spokesman took issue with some of the report's conclusions and pointed out that Florida's results are still among the nation's most impressive, as the report points out.

    "The first year, we had start-up costs and spent a lot of money," said spokesman Frank Penela. "We don't need to spend start-up dollars every year. We don't need to build the brand every year. We're spending what we need to spend to be efficient."

    Florida's effort is funded by the $13-billion settlement with tobacco companies. As the money comes in, it is placed into a endowment named after former Gov. Lawton Chiles, who led the litigation effort against tobacco companies.

    The endowment money is devoted to health programs, and a large portion goes to smoking prevention. Annual funding for prevention programs dropped from $70-million to about $39-million.

    The Florida program became nationally known a couple of years ago with its impressive results and controversial Truth ad campaign, which included billboards, radio spots and a series of irreverent commercials that took on tobacco companies.

    The Truth campaign has since been adopted by a national group that recently ran a number of stark "body bags" commercials indicting tobacco companies as purveyors of death.

    The report, called "Show Us the Money," lists Florida as one of only 17 states that has made "substantial commitments to fund tobacco prevention."

    The report gives Florida a 15th-place ranking for its level of funding, compared with the level of funding recommended by the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Florida's annual budget is about $44-million, which includes $5-million for enforcement. The CDC recommends that Florida spend at least $78-million based on the size of the settlement.

    The director of the Massachusetts anti-smoking program welcomed the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids report -- not only because it lauded the Massachusetts effort, he said, but because someone needs to monitor the spending of money from tobacco settlements. "I think it's very important to keep evaluating these programs," said Greg Connolly, director of the Massachusetts Tobacco Control Program. "This money is intended to be used to keep kids from smoking, not to build bridges or provide tax cuts. The further we get from the courtroom, the easier it is to forget that."

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