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Antismoking drive fizzles, group says

A few years ago, antitobacco advocates hailed Florida as a national model. The state went after big tobacco before many others, and won a multimillion-dollar settlement to help pay for prevention programs.

An edgy antismoking campaign for kids followed and the state saw noticeable declines in youth smoking.

But in the last year or two, the state has not spent what advocates say is needed to warn kids about smoking's dangers. And on Thursday the American Lung Association for the second straight year gave Florida a failing grade on such spending.

In 2003, the Legislature cut spending for the state's heralded teen antismoking program, once funded at $70-million, down to $1-million, prompting an outcry from antismoking advocates and last year's F grade.

"Sadly, we have not made any progress," said Belle DeKoff, president of the American Lung Association of Florida.

The 2004 budget also appropriated $1-million for the Florida Tobacco Control Program.

The association also gave Florida an F for its cigarette tax, which at 34 cents a pack is one of the lowest in the country. Antismoking advocates said a higher tax would both give the state more money to fight teen smoking and discourage kids from buying the product by making it more expensive.

The Lung Association's assistant CEO in Florida, Brenda Olsen, said Florida's tax hasn't gone up since 1990. Some states levy more than $2 a pack. The national average is 84 cents.

On general funding, lawmakers in recent years have argued that the state had to make tough choices in spending, considering cuts in programs for the needy and facing demands to cut class sizes and to cope with growing health care costs.

But Olsen said spending more money on preventing smoking could cut health care costs in the long run.

Florida is second only to Texas in the disparity in what it spends on tobacco control _ $1.75-million this year, including federal grant money _ and what the federal Centers for Disease Control recommends. The CDC says Florida should spend about $78-million a year on the project.

By comparison, California spent $90.1-million this fiscal year on tobacco prevention.

Department of Health spokeswoman Lindsay Hodges noted the agency has fought for more tobacco control money in the past, but said it hadn't decided what to ask the Legislature for in the coming budget year.

The Lung Association also gave Florida a D grade on its laws governing youth access to tobacco products, partly because cigarette machines are not banned and the law doesn't require all smokes to be held behind a retail counter.

But the state received a B for having cleaner air because of the recent amendment preventing smoking in most workplaces.