News and Events

Tobacco Issues in the 2010 Florida Legislative Session
by Thomas J. Harrington, Facilitator, Tobacco Free Partnership of Dixie County

During the 2010 Florida Legislative Session, two important tobacco issues came before the House and Senate.  The first bill involved secondhand smoke exposure in automobiles that included passengers that were children.  The second involved a shift in funding for community-based tobacco prevention programs mandated by an amendment to the Florida Constitution passed in 2006.

HB 1141: Smoking in Vehicles with Minor Passengers

An exciting new program came into existence 6 years ago.  It’s called “Ought to Be a Law”, a program that allows high school students to offer up pieces of legislation they have drafted.  Actual legislators from Hillsborough and Pinellas Counties judge the various students’ drafts and select one that they agree to co-sponsor in the Senate and House.

This year the winning piece of legislation was the “Smoking in Vehicles with Minor Passengers” bill.   This bill, otherwise known as HB 1141, would have encouraged adults not to smoke when minors were present inside a vehicle with them.

SWAT (Students Working Against Tobacco) was part of coalition to support this bill, and the students had the opportunity to present the bill in front of the Roads, Bridges, and Ports Policy Committee.  The bill was “work-shopped”, a process that occurs when a bill brought forward is deemed as complex or controversial.  The committee then has conversations about any concerns or benefits the bill might offer.  They decide at the end of workshop whether they are in favor of it and whether they should bring the bill back up on the agenda formally in front of committee where a formal vote would take place.

The students who participated came up a day early in Tallahassee to educate committee members about the bill.  Many of the committee members were against the bill from the onset because they viewed it as a “slippery slope”, despite the fact that revenue generated by fines would have gone to a transportation trust fund that’s allocated according to the statute.

Supporters of the bill argued that is not the start of a “slippery slope” because it very specifically addresses the medical evidence about the dangers of smoke in cars and children.

In fact, a recent Harvard study of this can be found online according to Amber Smith, the senior legislative aide for Rep. Kevin Ambler, the House sponsor for the bill.   The Harvard study shows that the equivalent of smoking one hour in a car with a child is like giving them four cigarettes to smoke!  There are also increased risks for health effects, including pneumonia, asthma, ear infections.  Asthma is one of the main reasons that students miss school the most, so the bill may have helped to keep more children in school a greater number of days. 

“Driving in the state of Florida is not a right, it’s a responsibility,” says Ms. Smith.  She refers to the fact that the state of Florida is able to have more of a say in what happens on the road - i.e. children must use a booster/car seat, adults/children have to use seat belts, etc.

Smith noted how incredible it was to see how some committee members changed their points of view after the students educated them on the harm of second-hand smoke.  The Senate’s companion bill SB 2596 reached unanimous support but even though the bill was favorable in the House committee workshop it was never put on the agenda to be heard in the committee again and be voted on as much emphasis was placed on the budget.  Students did a great job though and ended up bringing a favorable outcome when opposition against them was tremendous; in the end time ran out and it wasn’t a priority issue for leadership.  “Most focus continues to be on the budget”, maintains Ms. Smith. 

HB 5309/5301: Tobacco Prevention Program Funding

This bill was being proposed by the Florida House of Representatives to take away $9 million dollars of the $11M funding that currently supports local community-based tobacco prevention programs, including local Tobacco Free Partenerships and Students Working Against Tobacco (SWAT) programs. Instead, the funding would have been redirected towards developing tobacco cessation services for mental health patients. While the mental health population is indeed an important one, the shift in funding would have resulted in a disproportionate amount of emphasis being placed on a very narrow population (.001% of Florida’s population or approx. 186, 000 people).   In addition the House position went against CDC Guidelines and Best Practices for tobacco prevention and control which was a driving element in the voter-approved constitutional directive.  Different versions of this bill existed in both the Florida House and Senate; however, the language in the Senate bill did NOT cut funding for community-based tobacco prevention programs, and eventually the House capitulated to the Senate position.

What was at stake?

It would have resulted in an 80% reduction in funding for the State and Community Based Interventions program, and as such, would have financially crippled county Tobacco-Free Partnerships AND the Students Working Against Tobacco (SWAT) program.

Community intervention grants that supported the creation of 341 school and community-based Students Working Against Tobacco (SWAT) chapters with more than 5,700 members would have been disbanded.

Community intervention grantees provide services to approximately 80,000 youth annually.  The Passage of HB 5309 or 5301 meant no support for continuation of this youth movement. Community intervention grants currently generate 180 direct jobs and 164 indirect jobs for a total employment of 344 jobs, if the bill passed it would have been a loss of those jobs.

The House and Senate went back and forth in committees.  During this process, supporters of the current programs throughout the state made phone calls to maintain the current programs. With the help of these supporters, including the American Cancer Society’s Cancer Action Network and the Tobacco Prevention Network of Florida, the House finally agreed to remove the Mental Health Services portion of that bill and save the constitutionally mandated funding for tobacco-free programs.