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Florida Targets Underage Smokers With Media, Education Campaign

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Following a historic settlement with tobacco companies, Gov. Lawton Chiles has begun a two-year, $200 million war against Joe Camel and the Marlboro Man.

The campaign against teenage smoking, which will include $65 million in school-based education programs and a $65 million media blitz, is part of a $11.3 billion, 25-year settlement that Florida secured last August in its lawsuit against the nation's major cigarette makers.

The settlement requires the state to spend $200 million "for general enforcement, media, educational, and other programs directed to the underage and potential underage users of tobacco products" by Sept. 15, 1999. The deal also restricts advertising and promotional activities that appeal to young people, including a ban on tobacco-related billboard advertising beginning this year.

Settlement proceeds will also be distributed to local nonprofit anti-tobacco groups and to bolster state and local efforts to keep cigarettes, cigars, and chewing tobacco from minors, according to Chuck Wolfe, Gov. Chiles' director of external affairs and anti-tobacco coordinator.

"We hope that these funds bring about the beginning of attitude shifts here in Florida," Mr. Wolfe said in an interview.

Although he conceded that neither he nor the experts the state has consulted can be certain of which aspects of the anti-tobacco campaign will be most effective in curbing teenage smoking, or even if the program will be a success, he said that Florida will draw on the experience of other states that have embarked on the same mission. Those states include Arizona, California, Massachusetts, and Oregon.

What Massachusetts Found

The experience of Massachusetts suggests that what works in curbing adult smoking may not work as well for teenagers.

The state's 76-cent-a-pack tax on cigarettes--the second-highest in the nation, behind Washington state's 82.5 cents--underwrites one of the country's largest anti-tobacco campaigns. The Bay State was also one of the first to begin imposing bans on indoor smoking.

Since the anti-tobacco campaign began in 1993, an estimated 100,000 adults have quit smoking in Massachusetts, according to the state health department. The number of teenage smokers in Massachusetts, however, has not budged, according to the state.

The latest Monitoring the Future Study, an annual report on nationwide teenage drug, tobacco, and alcohol use by the University of Michigan and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, showed that tobacco use among the nation's 8th graders may be leveling off or even declining. But 12th graders are smoking at the highest levels since 1979.

Still, Kenneth E. Warner, a professor at the University of Michigan's school of public health in Ann Arbor, said that if teenage-smoking rates in Massachusetts aren't rising as they are in other states, the state must be doing something right. "Both Massachusetts and California have effective media campaigns that are large and sustained and that mock tobacco use," Mr. Warner said.

Policymakers have been stymied by a research void on what actually curbs teen tobacco use, according to William Novelli, the director of the National Center for Tobacco Free Kids, a nonprofit anti-tobacco organization in Washington. Most anti-tobacco programs have been based more on intuition than hard data, he said. And, he said, what works in one region, might not in another.

"There is no silver bullet," Mr. Novelli said. "What we've seen work most effectively in getting kids to stop smoking are a combination of programs that are in place over time--really good public education programs," prohibitively high cigarette prices, and policing of tobacco sales to minors.

Fiscal Discipline

Florida officials are "putting together a really comprehensive program in a disciplined way," he continued. "They could eventually be a role model for a national program" to curb youth smoking.

Gov. Chiles began outlining his plans for the tobacco settlement late last year. Florida officials say that scrupulous spending is their first priority.

"We have been endowed with a lot of money for a specific goal," Sen. Pat Thomas, a Democrat and the head of the state Senate's oversight committee, said. "We want to be careful not to waste it, but at the same time, we're groping in the dark as we get started."

The fact that the money must be spent by September of next year poses additional challenges to lawmakers, he and other officials there say.

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Web Resources
  • The National Center for Tobacco-Free Kids is an alliance of such national health advocacy organizations as the American Medical Association, the American Heart Association, and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Its Web site contains the center's statement on the tobacco industry settlement.
  • Read a copy of the June 20, 1997, tobacco industry settlement, which outlines the restrictions on marketing and advertising, the penalties, and other aspects of the settlement, from the State Tobacco Information Center.
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