MILTON — A Florida Constitution Revision Commission public hearing will take place 1-7 p.m. Feb. 27 at the University of West Florida Conference Center and Ballroom, 11000 University Parkway, Building 22 in Pensacola.
The commission will hear public input on 37 proposals it is considering to send to the Nov. 6 General Election. Among them is Proposition 94, which would eliminate funding minimums for Tobacco Free Florida — the state’s tobacco education and prevention program — and add cancer research.
Currently, the state constitution, which establishes Tobacco Free Florida, mandates advertising to discourage tobacco usage and educate on tobacco’s health hazards; evidence-based curricula and programs to educate youths about tobacco; community-based partnerships to discourage usage; enforcement of laws and policies against tobacco sales and provision to minors; and publicly reported annual evaluations to ensure funds are spent properly.
Currently, 15 percent of the annual appropriation, $68.6 million this fiscal year, must go to this program. The constitution also mandates one-third of this, $22.8 million, goes to advertising. Commissioner and Florida Rep. Jeanette Nuñez sponsored Proposition 94, which would eliminate this one-third requirement and add a program element — cancer research.
"Philosophically, I have an issue with an arbitrary number in the constitution," Nuñez said during a Jan. 11 CRC Finance And Taxation Committee meeting. "I feel strongly appropriation expenditures lie best in the legislative arena."
Originally, Nuñez’s bill included treatment with research but to compromise, she said, she removed the treatment portion.
"I minimized that to research because in my opinion cancer research is the best and most quantifiable way at prevention … It was my goal to include cancer research as one of the programmatic expenditures that would be allowable under this particular program," she said.
A coalition made up of the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, the American Heart Association, American Lung Association and the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids opposes the proposition, according to an ACSCAN press release.
The release cites the state’s tobacco control program statistics including a 71 percent youth smoking rate decrease since voters in 2006 passed the program, $3.2 billion in health care costs saved and 159,000 Floridians quitting tobacco. It also says 30 percent of cancer deaths in the state are attributed to smoking and 15.5 percent of Florida residents smoke.
"We know what works when it comes to preventing and reducing tobacco use," Martha Bogdan, executive vice president of the American Lung Association, Southeast Region, said. "Florida’s tobacco prevention and control programs are highly effective and any diversion of funds away from the program will result in higher smoking rates. Tobacco Free Florida save lives and protect kids from a lifetime of addiction."
Ray Carson, director of Media Advocacy for ACSCAN, said, "There’s an old saying (that) an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of the cure. It’s far cheaper to prevent a disease than to have to treat it and invest in the research to treat it. That’s why this program is so important."
The Florida CRC convenes every 20 years to examine the state’s constitution for possible changes.
CRC proposals must be filed with the Secretary of State by May 10 and then appear on the Nov. 6 general election ballot.