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Preventing youth smoking in Texas

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LEAD-IN BY HOST ROBERT CARDENAS: The state of texas recieves around $600 million per year as a result of the landmark tobacco lawsuit settlements in 1998, but according to the national center for tobacco-free kids, tobacco continues to take its toll on texas youth, citing that 29 percent of high school students in the state smoke cigarettes. What is the state doing about it? With more here's Craig Byrnes.

STORY: In 1998, the state of texas achieved a settlement of $17 billion- with the four largest tobacco companies in the world- to be paid out over 25 years. Since that date, continuous recieption of the funds has yielded more than $3 billion. For the past two years spending for youth prevention is remaining steady at around $12 million despite the us center for disease control and prevention's minimum recommendation of $104 million. Spokesman for the Texas Department of Health, Marcus Cooper, is optimistic about future funding.

"We've fallen behind the national recommendation, but i guess what we like to focus on is what the legislature has given us to work with. No, it's not what would be recommended by cdc per person, but we have been able to make good use of the money and show that we can make an impact. Hopefully it's the sort of results that would be encouraging, and maybe even influence our legislators to go statewide with this kind of campaign."

The only anti-youth smoking campaign, sponsored by the state's health depatment, is currently in place in east texas. Its primary media market is situated within houston, beaumont and port arthur and according to cooper; the number of middle schoolers who use tobacco has decreased by 40 percent. Marcus Cooper: "we'll follow up those television commercials and media messages with outreach events at local schools, so when the kids see the commercials on the air, it'll be followed up by community events and school events. That's how the kids will get the message right at their doorstep."

A spokesman for the largest tobacco company in the world, Phillip Morris, says the company has spent over $11 billion since 1998 on prevention of youth smoking and settlements. Phillip Morris spokesman:

"we are very pleased to see the declines in youth smoking nationwide. We think it's the result of the efforts of a number of public health groups and our efforts as well. Phillip morris is spending more than $100 million a year on youth smoking prevention efforts that includes, supportive programs in schools, national advertising and communications with parents- encouraging them to talk to their kids about not smoking. So, we are very pleased with the decline in youth smoking nationwide."

The health department plans to intorduce an adult cessation campagin later this fall aimed at getting the older children and adults to quit the habit. The new campagin will be similar to the current and only in place in east texas. Are there any plans for taking the campaigns statewide? Cooper explains.

"not yet. The legislature will meet in january. We do know that the state budget is going to be very tight this year, and we are working with what we have. When the time is right, it can hopefully be implemented in other parts of the state."

Faced with budget problems for this bienium, the more important item on the legislatures' list is health care. Since january 1999, the state contributed just over $400 million of the tobacco money to counties- on a per capita basis- while building permanent trust funds and endowments to make the money grow. While the tobacco companies do not criticcize the state's government, their feeling's are clear. Phillip Morris spokesman:

"Our position has been to encourage the states to spend a significant portion of the funds on youth smoking prevention. I think this is a unique opportunity for the states to address a very important problem."

With a state and federal tax burden per household of $520, the national center for tobacco-free kids hopes republican governor rick perry will not go easy on tobacco taxes. The center cites gov. Perry's recent appointment of former phillip morris lobbiest, mike toomey, as his chief of staff as disappointing, and they hope politics do not cloud settlement allocations and tobacco tax decisions.

Craig Byrnes, KPFT news, Houston.

E-mail Tiffany Bosler at news@kpft.org.

This story was broadcast on December 6, 2002.