Florida has had the nation's most successful anti-smoking program for teens, the famous "Truth" campaign, but it’s gasping for breath. Lawmakers are trying to save it from the budget axe, but it's easier said than done.
Lawmakers are tying a controversial tax on these low-cost made-in-Florida cigarettes to a popular teen anti-smoking campaign. If the tax passes, Students Working Against Tobacco, or SWAT, gets $16 million to keep it going.
Sen. Ron Klein says that's the only way he'd vote for the tax hike.
"The tobacco education program is one of the most important things we can do to save our teens from starting smoking in the first place, and save the state billions of dollars over the next generation of medical expenses," says Sen. Ron Klein, (D) Boca Raton.
The tax is supposed to even the score for some of the small independent companies that weren't included in the original tobacco lawsuit against the national brands accused of advertising to kids.
Yolanda Nader says slapping a 40 or 50-cent-a-pack tax on her company's low-cost brands will drive her out of business and put 300 people out of work.
"There's no way we can compete and given that our market is Florida, I don't sell anywhere else to any degree, I don't think the company could continue as a growing concern," says Yolanda.
Jeb Bush does not want to pass a tax increase, any tax increase right before the elections, but he does want to save the teen anti-smoking campaign. Lt. Gov. Toni Jennings says the administration hasn't taken a position on the cigarette tax hike.
"But we are strongly supportive of additional dollars for the SWAT programs," Jennings says.
And tying the anti-smoking program to the tax hike may be the only way to get it past the governor's veto pen.
If the tax increase on off-brand cigarettes passes, it could generate more than $70 million a year in new revenue. Two million of that would be earmarked for minority health programs.