working against

Students Working Against Tobacco

Students Working Against Tobacco or SWAT is the name of independent groups across the United States who work to educate and unite students against the alleged manipulation and targeting of youth by tobacco companies. Each division of SWAT is managed independently from state-to-state.

The state of Florida was the first state to settle its lawsuit with "Big Tobacco" in 1997. At the time settling for 11.3 billion dollars to be paid out over the next 25 years. Through a friendly language clause the Florida settlement would be increased to an estimated 13 billion dollars. The now late Gov. Lawton Chiles vowed that the money won in the suits would go to fund a state program to prevent youth smoking. This program developed in SWAT, Students Working Against Tobacco, in Florida schools in 1998. Other such programs exist with different names in Michigan and New York just to name a few. Funding for Florida SWAT was constantly being cut after Gov. Chiles. In 2003, the Florida government cut the SWAT budget entirely. One student, Joe Scarfone, rallied students and even one of the all-star lawyers that won the Big Tobacco lawsuit in the first place to sue Gov. Jeb Bush for misallocation of funding. A press conference was held with Scarfone and the lawyer at a hotel next door to the conference center hosting a large state-funded SWAT convention in Tampa. Needless to say, during special session, the Florida State Legislature gave back a sixteenth of the SWAT budget- enough to keep it growing on the grassroots level. From 1998 to 2003, youth smoking has decreased by more than 50% among Florida youth in grades 6-12. Despite the obvious correlation between SWAT and the decline in youth smoking, the Florida Department of Health as well as the Centers for Disease Control refuse to recognize youth-led tobacco prevention efforts as valid.

On November 7, 2006, Floridians voted to pass Amendment 4 requiring 15% ($57 million) of the 2005 tobacco settlement payments to Florida for the purpose of funding a statewide tobacco education and prevention program. This funding has been made available to individual counties to spend on tobacco prevention at their discretion. In spite of SWAT's enormously successful efforts and the wishes of Florida's voters, the Florida Department of Health refuses to provide funding for a statewide SWAT program and has dismantled the most successful youth anti-tobacco program in history.

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