Florida receives more than $350 million a year from its settlement with Big Tobacco. In the beginning, up to $70 million a year was spent on highly successful ads.
Middle and high school tobacco use plummeted. Then the funding got cut to next to nothing, so now the same people who successfully passed a smoking ban in restaurants and public places want to require the Legislature to use 15 percent of the tobacco settlement for anti-smoking efforts.
Adrian Abner was around when the first campaign was in its heyday.
Adrian Abner of Students Working Against Tobacco says, “And I know firsthand that it helped insure my friends, and I didn't need to smoke to be considered cool.”
The group, which must collect 611,000 signatures by February, says it tried to work with lawmakers.
Brenda Olson of the Florida Lung Association says, “And we just haven’t been successful, and this is the only avenue we have to ensure the tobacco dollars are being used as intended to help prevent kids from ever starting to smoke.”
Advocates can't argue the number of young people starting to smoke has gone up since this program was cut to the bone, but what they can argue is that the downward trend has been stopped in its tracks.
Statistics show nine out of 10 adult smokers started as teenagers.