Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Florida Ads Persuade Teens Not to Smoke

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Florida Ads Persuade Teens Not to Smoke

Article excerpt

Florida is accomplishing what many health experts once considered nearly impossible: It is making smoking an "uncool" activity among teenagers.

That is, the state is persuading teens not only that it is unhealthy to light up a cigarette, but that kids are being manipulated by the tobacco industry.

It is a message served up in irreverent, in-your-face television advertisements designed and approved by Florida teens and intended entirely for a teenage audience. They've been running for two years on Florida TV stations as part of a wide-ranging and aggressive antitobacco campaign that is proving far more successful than anyone predicted.

A recent statewide survey shows that, within the past two years, smoking declined by 54 percent among middle school students and by 24 percent among high school students. That translates to roughly 80,000 students who are not smoking today.

"They are the most dramatic results we've seen in youth smoking from any of the comprehensive programs we've seen implemented," says Danny McGoldrick, director of research at the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids in Washington. "They provide astounding evidence that comprehensive, well-funded antitobacco programs work."

Indeed, Florida is setting the standard for the nation in how to conduct a results-oriented antitobacco campaign. It is a breakthrough that could spur other states currently flush with cash from the multibillion-dollar national tobacco settlement.

Until now, that hasn't happened. Many states have chosen to use tobacco-settlement money as a source of general revenue rather than as a means to prevent children from becoming addicted to nicotine.

Other states have also seen results from their antismoking campaigns: In Massachusetts, which began its antitobacco program in 1993, a survey released last week recorded a 15 percent decline in smoking by high school students since 1995. In California, the effort begun in 1990 has resulted in a reduction of adult smokers from 27 percent of the population down to 18 percent.

But many other states are counting on the efforts of the American Legacy Foundation. The Foundation was set up last year in Washington to wage a nationwide antitobacco campaign. It is funded with money pooled from the settlement of state tobacco lawsuits.

"The only way we will succeed as a nation is for the states to put at least some of the tobacco-settlement dollars into [their own] tobacco-prevention efforts," says Bill Furmanski, a spokesman. "We are here to supplement those programs, not replace them."

The Florida program includes antitobacco-education programs starting in grade school, teen-run partnerships at the county level, and a tough enforcement effort in which kids caught with tobacco face losing their driver's license. But the best-known aspect of Florida's program is its gritty TV ads. …

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