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Center To Target Tobacco Use by Youths

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The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the American Cancer Society announced last week that they will spend $30 million in the next five years to create a national organization devoted to fighting tobacco use by children.

The Washington-based National Center for Tobacco-Free Kids, which is to be up and running in June, is intended to go toe to toe with the tobacco industry, countering its promotional messages and legislative efforts. Center officials will try to defeat through regulation many of the marketing strategies that they say attract children and teenagers to start smoking. The tobacco industry denies that it targets minors.

"The center is going to focus on changing the social environment and changing the policy environment," said William D. Novelli, the former president of the New York City public relations agency Porter/Novelli, who will be the president of the center.

The Princeton, N.J.-based Robert Wood Johnson Foundation will provide at least $20 million over five years, and the cancer society, based in Atlanta, will kick in up to $10 million.

The Annie B. Casey Foundation, the Conrad Hilton Foundation, the Henry Ford Health System, the Kaiser Family Foundation, the American Heart Association, and the American Medical Association have also pledged to provide some financial support.

Lobbying Focus

The center will push for many of the same restrictions proposed last summer by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which published regulations that would try to curb teenage smoking by banning some advertising and sales practices. But officials said the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation's interest in establishing such a center predates that plan.

As a private organization, the center can be more aggressive in its approach than the Clinton administration can be, Mr. Novelli argued.

The center will not support community-based smoking-prevention work. It will lobby at the state and federal levels, maintain a database of grassroots activists nationwide, and provide technical assistance and money to combat state-level legislative efforts by the tobacco industry.

The National PTA has signed on to work with the center, and Mr. Novelli said he expects other education groups to be involved.

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