The Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids has released their 18th annual report Broken Promises to Our Children: A State-by-State Look at the 1998 State Tobacco Settlement 18 Years Later. Since 1998 states have received an estimated $246 billion, yet despite promises to use “a significant portion to attack the enormous public health problems caused by tobacco use,” the states continue to shortchange tobacco prevention and cessation programs.” In 2017, “the states will collect $26.6 billion from the settlement and tax revenues, but will only spend 1.8 percent, or $491.6 million on program to prevent kids from smoking and help smokers quit.”
In 2006 Florida voters had the foresight to approve a ballot proposal to earmark “15 percent of tobacco funds for programs aimed at prospective young smokers, with adjustments for inflation.” From this, the Tobacco Free Florida program was borne, including “media campaigns, community programs such as the youth-led Students Working Against Tobacco (SWAT) groups and help for smokers trying to quit.” In the 10 years since the amendment, the high school smoking rate has dropped by two-thirds, from 15.5 percent” to a record low 5.2 percent, placing Florida in 14th place nationwide. This year Florida will spend $67.8 million, which is only about a third “of the $194.2 million recommended by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).” While Florida has made tremendous progress over the years to reduce youth smoking, 7,400 Florida kids still “become regular smokers each year,” and 32,300 Floridians die prematurely, costing “the state over $8.6 million in health care bills annually.” Every household in Florida pays $763 for their share of the state and federal tax burden from smoking-caused government expenditures.
Tobacco companies spend more than $1 million every hour in the U.S. to “market their deadly and addictive products.” They spend over $560 million each year in Florida alone – “8 times what the state spends on tobacco prevention.” It is difficult for states to compete with tobacco industry spending but simple steps would have a large impact here in Florida. Educating more Florida students in every grade level with tobacco prevention lessons would help decrease youth use. Teens are price sensitive and raising the state’s cigarette tax, which has not been increased since 2009, would be a further deterrent to use. And raising the tobacco age to 21 would further decrease teen use.
Education is key to decreasing tobacco use and the FLDOE Office of Healthy Schools sponsors the Florida Tobacco Prevention Training for Educators online course for teachers, administrators and school counselors to take at no cost to receive points toward renewing their certificate. Last year alone the participants in our course reached over 20,000 students with tobacco prevention lessons. Currently, 30 out of the 67 Florida school districts have participants in one of our two courses (30- or 60-points). We would love to see every district participate so we can reach more students and further decrease youth tobacco use in our state.
Decreasing youth nicotine use will decrease future adult nicotine use, protect the health of our citizens, and save Florida millions in health care expenses. Can we really afford not to make Florida tobacco free?
The Broken Promises report is issued by the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, American Heart Association, American Cancer Society cancer Action Network, American Lung Association, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, American for Nonsmokers’ Right and Truth Initiative.