Florida Amendment 4 - Youth Anti-Smoking Campaign

Amendment 4
TAMPA -

For the first five years after Florida's landmark settlement with the tobacco industry, the state spent a portion of the money - an average $47 million a year - on anti-smoking campaigns.

But state lawmakers have since reduced spending on anti-tobacco programs to $1 million a year. Amendment 4 proponent Damien Filer says higher spending on anti-tobacco education has yielded benefits the state should not dismiss, such as a decrease in the number of young smokers.

FILER: We saw drops from 35 to 50 percent among middle and high school students in the state of Florida. We've never seen results like that anywhere else.

Filer is the manager of Floridians for Youth Tobacco Education Incorporated, which sponsored Amendment 4. They say cigarette addiction is a big problem among young Floridians.

Amendment 4 requires 15 percent of the annual tobacco settlement payments to go toward anti-tobacco programs. That amounts to about $54 million dollars a year.

State Rep. Dennis Baxley is a veteran lawmaker from Marion County. He says Amendment 4 has merit. But Baxley says fiscal decisions are the domain of the Legislature.

BAXLEY: This is an appropriation decision and it has to be made through the representative process. So I actually oppose this amendment while I am in great sympathy with the cause for which it advocates.

The tobacco settlement adds $400 million to the state budget annually and will supply billions more in the next two decades. Lawmakers have used the money to pay for everything from teacher salaries to programs for poor people.

Tampa attorney Steve Yerrid was part of Florida's team of lawyers who sued the tobacco industry. He agrees that amending the constitution is not the best way make sure anti-smoking education is funded.

But he sees no other way to ensure the money is spent on smoking prevention, instead of supplementing the budget.

YERRID: We get this great result, and the state of Florida acts as if it's an entitlement program. It's not at all an entitlement program. It's designed to repay us for the damages the cigarette cartel wrought upon us and also to educate the young people so 30 years from today we don't have these people sick and dying like we had this generation.

Mark Wilson, Executive Vice President of the Florida Chamber of Commerce, says his organization opposes Amendment 4, because eventually the taxpayers may have to pay for it.

WILSON: Voters need to know that it's either going to raise our taxes or it's going to force our representative officials to take money out of other valuable programs to pay for this one.

Wilson also echoes Baxley's sentiment that budget matters should be the responsibility of the Legislature.

A recent Zogby International poll conducted for The Miami Herald indicated 74 percent of the registered voters surveyed support Amendment 4.

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