April 1, 1999
MIAMI (CNN) -- Smoking by teens in Florida has dropped significantly since the state began an aggressive anti-smoking campaign last year, according to a new federal report.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the number of middle school students who say they smoke dropped from 18.5 percent to 15 percent. The number of high school smokers declined from 27.4 percent to 25.2 percent during the same period, the CDC found.
The figures were based on a survey of nearly 21,000 middle and high school students.
"While there have been other programs throughout the country, notably in states like California and Massachusetts, this is the first time we've seen a significant reduction in teen smoking in nearly 20 years," said Michael Eriksen, director of the CDC's Office on Smoking and Health.
While the report said there is not enough evidence yet to credit the anti-smoking campaign for the drop, state health officials believe it clearly had an effect.
Florida's $70 million anti-smoking program, financed by the state's $13 billion settlement from the tobacco industry, includes educational programs and increased enforcement of laws against underage smoking.
It also involves an aggressive youth-oriented ad campaign, dubbed the "truth campaign," that targets tobacco companies with billboards and eye-catching commercials.
"The health message isn't going to hook you as much as the message (that smoking) is going to make you look stupid. That's what hooks young people," said Joshua Johnson, who worked on the campaign.
However, the CDC survey showed little drop in the use of cigars and smokeless tobacco by high school students. Use rates for middle schoolers dropped in both those categories. The drop in tobacco use was smaller among minority teens than among white teens.
The future of the anti-smoking campaign is being debated in the Florida legislature. Gov. Jeb Bush is asking for $61 million to fund the program for another year, but so far the Florida House is willing to spend only about half that amount.
Correspondent Mark Potter and Reuters contributed to this report.
CDC: Smoking rates up among teens
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