Anniversary of Landmark Tobacco Settlement Raises Questions

By Mike Vasilinda
7:12pm August 24, 2006

The 1997 settlement set the stage for other suits nationwide. Money continues to pour into the state treasury, but anti-smoking advocates say the state hasn’t been using the money as envisioned in the settlement and they want voters to do something about it.

Florida receives just over $380 million from big tobacco every year, but last year it spent just $1 million on prevention. A mere shadow of what was spent nine years ago. Gone too are the edgy TV spots by kids for kids.

Those spots helped cut smoking among teens by 50 percent. Anti smoking advocates say the trend is reversing.

Damien Filer said, “As that funding has gone away, so have the dramatic drops in usage.”

Amendment four will require that 15 cents of every dollar the state receives from tobacco be used to fund prevention efforts.

The plan will raise more than $57 million a year, more than ten times what’s being spent on prevention right now."

Jeb Bush asked for more money when the anti smoking programs were being cut. Despite the cuts though, he says the money is helping people.

Gov. Jeb Bush said, “My first year, we created the Lawton Chiles endowment. It now has about $2 billion in it. The earnings from that goes for social services and I think that’s a good thing."

But the amount of money going into prevention isn’t anywhere near what the original settlement envisioned, and advocates say it is just a matter of time before more and more kids are starting to smoke again.

The yearly payments to Florida from the tobacco industry have been declining in recent years. In part because fewer people are smoking and cigarette sales in Florida are down.