Students Fighting Tobacco Are Also Fighting Budget Cuts

By: Victoria Langley
By: Victoria Langley

Eleven-year-old Michael Naughton brought a pile of letters to the Senate President's office in Tallahassee. The letters are from children begging lawmakers to restore $39 million to the Students Working Against Tobacco program.

Michael is a cancer survivor himself and he wants to keep other kids from going through what he went through.

"Since most kids actually start smoking and drug use in their teen years, then if we can prevent that, we can prevent a little bit more of the cancer that happens."

The kids' pleas are mostly falling on deaf ears. Only a handful of legislators are saying keeping kids from smoking should be one of Florida's highest priorities. One of them is Senator Frederica Wilson, a Miami Democrat.

"I can tell you, cigarettes are weapons of mass destruction for the young people in our nation."

The kids even camped out in the governor's office until Lt. Governor Toni Jennings agreed to see them. The governor has recommended about half the money the kids are hoping for, but even that's in jeopardy.

Jennings met with the students and listened to what they had to say.

"What I'm trying to do is have the young people be realistic in their expectations, understand how important it is to lobby and get their recommendations across."

Preliminary results of a new public opinion poll show Florida citizens agree with the kids. Nearly seven out of 10 say at least half of the $400 million-plus in tobacco settlement money each year should go to fight smoking.

But for reasons only they know, lawmakers seem determined to dismantle a program credited with reducing middle school smoking by 57 percent.

Michael Naughton hopes lawmakers have a change of heart.


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