August 21, 2007

Florida's Historic Victory Against Big Tobacco Hits 10-Year Mark

(Credit to Ron Sachs Communications for the release; contact James VanLandingham for more info at 850-222-1996)

Tallahassee, FL -- Florida's former first lady, the eldest son of the late Gov. Lawton Chiles, former Attorney General Bob Butterworth and public health leadera in the fight against Big Tobacco today celebrated 10 years since the signing of the historic Florida tobacco settlement that severely curtailed cigarette advertising and sparked a precipitous decline in youth smoking.

"Ten years ago, my father called this settlement victory 'the straw that broke Joe Camel's back,'" said Lawton 'Bud' Chiles III, son of the late governor. 'I believe General Butterworth did him one better by quipping that 'the Marlboro Man is riding into the sunset on Joe Camel.'"

In addition to winning $13 billion in payments from Big Tobacco to taxpayers, the tobacco settlement banned outdoor advertising of cigarettes on billboards and public transit, and created the Florida Tobacco Control Program to fight cigarette use among youth.

"The victory over Big Tobacco created a safer and healthier world for our children," said Butterworth, now Secretary of the Department of Children and Families. "The changes that followed have been so successful, it's hard to believe we once had Marlboro Man and Joe Camel billboards plastered along our highways, inside our ballparks and on our bus stops. We had cigarette vending machines in shopping malls and even Joe Camel-style cartoon ads and merchandise that clearly targeted children. I'm proud of the progress we've made over the past decade, and I'm proud to be able to celebrate this tenth anniversary of our victory."

Within the past 10 years, according to the Florida Department of Health's Youth Tobacco Survey, the percentage of high school students that smoked in the last month has decreased from 27 percent in 1998 to just 15.5 percent in 2006 -- a 44 percent drop. And the number of high school students who smoke frequently -- defined as 20 cigarettes in the last month -- has dropped to just 4.5 percent. That number is down by two-thirds from 1998, Chiles said.

"These are numbers Florida can be proud of, as I know my husband would have been," said Rhea Chiles, Florida's former first lady. "Gov. Crist and the Legislature deserve praise for their diligent work to implement last year's voter-mandated amendment to increase funding for our state's anti-tobacco programs to $57 million."

Dr. Charles Mahan, dean emeritus of the College of Public Health at the University of South Florida -- home of the Lawton & Rhea Chiles Center for Healthy Mothers and Babies -- said that while Florida has scored victories against cigarette makers since 1997, the state still has unfinished business in helping the 3.1 million adult Floridians who are still smoking.

"The good news is that more than 70 percent of smokers want to quit, but smoking is an addiction and it takes most people several attempts before they can quit successfully," said Mahan, who served as Florida's State Health Officer from 1988 to 1995. "We must make more resources available to help these smokers who want to break this addiction. This must be the next step in the battle against Big Tobacco."

In Florida, nearly 29,000 deaths are attributable to smoking each year, and current annual health care costs directly caused by cigarette use total $5.82 billion, with an additional $5.86 billion in lost productivity.

"Smoking is an addiction -- we need to treat it as such by making smoking cessation a standard covered benefit of our health care system," Mahan said. "Government, business and health care providers must combine forces to ensure CDC-recommended pharmacological treatment and counseling programs are available to all smokers who want to quit as part of standard insurance benefits -- and not simply once, but for multiple attempts."

To aid this effort, doctors must receive more training in medical school and continuing education programs about the proven techniques that dramatically improve smokers' chances of successfully quitting, Mahan said.

Brenda Olsen, chief operating officers of the American Lung Association of Florida, agreed that Florida must be vigilant in its efforts to help people break their deadly addiction to tobacco by providing them sincere support, not just lip service.

"We commend the Florida Legislature and Gov. Crist for recognizing the need to help smokers break their addiction. Now, we must ensure the money allocated through the tobacco program be used in the most effective way," Olsen said. "We must continue to make every effort to 'de-normalize' smoking in our society and move closer to a public health pictures where the billions of dollars and millions of lives needlessly lost to smoking each year are saved. If we work together, I believe we can achieve this goal."

The legacy of Florida's 1997's victory against tobacco was also praised by Adrian Abner, a FAMU graduate who served as the 2003 Florida chairman of Students Working Against Tobacco, or SWAT, a youth-led program created with state money from the settlement. At 12 years old in 1997, Abner met Gov. Chiles, who inspired him to mobilize his peers against smoking.

"I firmly believe that the drop in youth smoking numbers is a direct result of these concerted efforts to mobilize young people against smoking," Abner said. "Growing up, I had only a few friends who became smokers, but I believe far more of my peers would be smoking today were it not for SWAT and the hard work that grew out of Florida's tobacco victory."

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