New evidence from the Florida Youth Tobacco Survey has shown a
significant slowing in the rate of teen smoking reduction in the last 12
months. Funnily enough that correlates rather well with a significant
reduction in the dollars made available by Gov. Jeb Bush (R-FL) for the
anti-smoking campaigns. And, as this column was going to press, Bush and
his cohorts were in session considering further cuts in that budget.
The story is not restricted to Florida either. A National Conference of
State Legislatures study released last week found that 63.4% of the
$21.3 billion paid to the states so far by Big Tobacco is being
used to fund projects other than anti-smoking campaigns - bridges,
penitentiaries, tax rebates, water projects, debt payments, you name it,
it's being funded by Big Tobacco in a state near you. And all the
evidence suggests that the proportion of the settlement spent on these
projects is rising.
The states say the settlement terms don't restrict the way the money is
spent, and as the recession bites, local politicians think diverting
this cash has limited political liability compared to the results of
under-spending elsewhere. And there has been insufficient reaction from
the people in those states to persuade those politicians otherwise. So,
it would seem, money that was being effectively used by several PR firms
to reduce teen smoking - Rogers & Cowan, Porter Novelli, The Nixon
Group, to name three - is likely to slowly dry up.
What can these firms do about this? They must be careful not to be seen
as lobbying, as they are still working for the state governments that
they'd have to lobby. This isn't to say that they can't - and aren't
already - working in the background to give lobbying advice to those
state department of health officials who are trying to win bigger chunks
of the settlement money from their pay lords and masters.
One might think that the other obvious tactic would be a
naming-and-shaming campaign in local papers, highlighting those
politicians who are diverting funds away from anti-smoking campaigns
that were so clearly helping to cut the uptake of smoking among teens.
As our Media Round-Up (p. 12) suggests, local papers are very receptive
to localized tobacco stories, and this is a key local issue. However, a
quick headline search on Reuters revealed that literally thousands of
these sorts of stories have already appeared in the local papers in the
past months and clearly - beyond a few small objections from the more
knowledgeable readers of those papers - haven't prompted the sort swell
of grassroots outrage that might have stayed the budget-cutters'
However, the success of campaigns created and marshaled by the above PR
agencies to get kids involved in government relations campaigns - the
work of The Nixon Group in Wisconsin would be a particularly strong
example - would suggest that getting kids to protest these cuts might be
an effective strategy for getting adults, and even politicians, to sit
up and take notice.
What is definitely needed is for all the interested parties, from the
CDC and Children Opposed to Tobacco to the American Legacy Foundation
and American Cancer Society, to unite and pool their thoughts and
communications strategies to devise a nationwide campaign to combat the
cuts in spending.
It is too important not to at least try.