Failing on smoking

Published: Saturday, January 10, 2004 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 9, 2004 at 10:03 p.m.
It comes as no surprise that Florida rated an "F" on its report card from the American Lung Association. The state virtually eliminated a nationally recognized and highly praised tobacco-prevention program aimed at teenagers. It also has used money from a tobacco settlement case for purposes other than cessation programs and disease-prevention efforts.
So, on the second-annual ALA's Tobacco Control 2003 report, Florida fails in that category.
It also failed in the area of cigarette taxes. Florida has the 41st lowest cigarette excise tax in the nation, 33.9 cents per pack. The Legislature complains of budget woes, but a majority of its members won't even suggest an increase in the tax.
And yet, there's plenty of room to increase the tax of 33.9 cents per pack and remain well below the national average of 70.5 cents per pack - more than twice the rate of Florida's tax.
Florida did receive a "B" grade in one area: for improving its Clean Indoor Air Act. But wait: The Legislature, which controlled the areas in which the state received "F" grades, didn't have anything to do with that.
It was a citizens initiative amendment, passed with more than 70 percent of the vote, that banned smoking in all indoor work areas, including restaurants, with the exception of stand-alone bars. The initiative was placed on the ballot after years of legislative inaction.
There are plenty of good reasons - involving both economics and health - for the Legislature to take the lead on tobacco instead of letting citizens do the job through the amendment process.
More than 30,100 Floridians will die from smoking-related illnesses this year. Tobacco use, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is the leading cause of preventable death in America. It is directly responsible for most cases of emphysema and bronchitis and causes nearly nine out of 10 lung cancer cases.
The CDC estimates tobacco-related sickness cost the state $11 billion in 2002. Of that, more than a half-billion dollars was for Medicaid payments to treat tobacco-related diseases.
"How many more preventable deaths must occur and how many more children must become addicted to cigarettes before we say enough?" asked Andrew Cuddihy, director of lung disease prevention for the American Lung Association's South area.
"This report card highlights that tough laws save lives and protect our children," said Cuddihy. "The American Lung Association of Florida calls on Gov. Bush and the Legislature to stand up for public health, stand up for our children and bring back the youth tobacco control program that was decimated in 2003."
Bush has said he wants to reinstate a substantial portion of the cuts made last year during this year's session, but the level of funding isn't expected to return.
State Health Secretary Dr. John Agwunobi said Jeb Bush's administration is "absolutely committed" to restoring the program, but did not know what the funding level might be. There will be $365 million available from tobacco-settlement money for this year's budget. "Full funding" would be appropriate.

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