15 Years, Thousands of Lives Saved: Reducing Tobacco Use in Florida

On August 25, 1997, Florida became the second state in the nation to settle a lawsuit against the tobacco industry. Fifteen years later, Florida is still a recognized leader with effective tobacco prevention and cessation programs that have saved numerous lives and at least $4.2 billion in personal health care costs by reducing the prevalence of tobacco use in the state. In 1997, 23.6 percent of Floridians smoked, compared to the most recent data released from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which shows that the current rate of smokers in Florida is 19.3 percent, below the national average of 21.2 percent.

“Florida continues to be a leader in the national tobacco control movement, and our Tobacco Free Florida program has enabled people to quit smoking, and further protects our youth from starting to smoke,” said Florida’s State Surgeon General Dr. John Armstrong.

From the beginning of its tobacco control efforts, Florida made youth smoking prevention a priority. The state was awarded $11.3 billion in the lawsuit settlement and used those funds to create the Tobacco Pilot Program that devised the TRUTH and the youth movement and Students Working Against Tobacco (SWAT). TRUTH was the country’s first counter-marketing campaign and would later become the model for the national youth counter-marketing program, truth® and numerous other state-based campaigns. SWAT continues as a statewide youth organization that is educating and empowering teens and middle schoolers about the dangers of tobacco and how they can make smart choices about tobacco use.

The tobacco lawsuits were intended to punish cigarette makers for decades of fraud and racketeering and to help states pay for the Medicaid and other public health expenses to cover sick smokers. Florida was among three other states – Texas, Mississippi and Minnesota – that settled with the tobacco industry before the Master Settlement Agreement of 1998 between the other 46 states, Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.

From 2003-2006, funding for Florida’s groundbreaking program was diverted to the state’s general revenue. In 2006, Florida voters overwhelmingly approved a state constitutional amendment requiring a percentage of the state’s settlement fund be used for a comprehensive tobacco education and use prevention program. The funding was used to create Tobacco Free Florida (TFF) which is managed by the Florida Department of Health. Florida has 500,000 fewer adult smokers than in 2007 and the rate of smokers in high school has fallen to 10.1 percent, below the national average of 15.8 percent.

TFF provides cessation services by phone, online and in-person, which offer nicotine replacement therapies to tobacco users in Florida.