Kids call the shots in Florida anti-smoking campaign
Tobacco settlement money is put to use
May 8, 1998
Web posted at: 10:42 p.m. EDT (0242 GMT)
From Correspondent Pat Neal
MIAMI (CNN) -- The state of Florida is using $200 million from its settlement with the tobacco industry to launch a pilot project with a single focus: give kids the truth about smoking.
Florida received its first check in the $11.3 billion landmark settlement eight months ago, and the rest of the country is watching how it spends the money.
"We take all our direction from people under the age of 18," says Chuck Wolfe, the director of the Florida Pilot Program on Tobacco Control.
The program started with a brainstorming teen summit.
Jenny Lee, a high-school student, says, "We told the governor and all adults working on this program what to do. We told the advertising agency what got across to us."
The youths' first message: Don't manipulate us. Just tell the truth.
So they started the Truth campaign, which includes a new television spot out this week. In it, teens call a movie producer with an idea.
One of the teens in the spot suggests a warning label for movies that glamorize smoking. "Something like 'The makers of this film couldn't find a way to make their characters cool or sexy or rebellious or rockin' so instead they'll just smoke.'"
Survey finds kids start young
With money from the tobacco settlement, Florida conducted the most comprehensive survey of its kind to find out how many kids are smoking and when they started.
The survey found that one-third of high-school students smoke, as do one-quarter of middle-schoolers.
So, officials say, efforts will center in classrooms, where youngsters spend the majority of their time. The state has approved funding for an anti-tobacco curriculum for every student in the state.
Florida's survey also showed that children are picking up the habit at an early age. So before school is out this year, every first-, second- and third-grader will get a new anti-smoking Berenstain Bears book.
"This is unique to Florida, and we expect it to be copied in other states," says Wolfe.
State cracks down on young smokers
Another focus of the plan is a crackdown. Underage smoking laws are being enforced through busts, and retailers who sell to kids are being targeted. Florida cleared the air of tobacco billboards and knocked tobacco sponsorships out of ballparks.
Since 90 percent of all smokers started before they were 18, Florida says getting through to kids -- whatever the way -- is all that matters.