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Published: Friday, 2/10/2006

Anti-smoking campaign helps kids, agency says

BY JIM PROVANCE
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU

COLUMBUS - The state agency behind Ohio's massive "stand" media campaign influencing youth attitudes on smoking said yesterday it has proof its efforts are working.

But the Tobacco Use Prevention and Cessation Foundation doesn't expect its apparent success reflected in survey results to change the General Assembly's mind when the state's budget for spending its $10 billion settlement with major tobacco companies comes up for reauthorization this fall.

The legislature has diverted $568 million of the foundation's funding to school construction, auto emissions testing, and other purposes in recent years.

"If we don't succeed, they're going to be upset with us for wasting the money," Executive Director Mike Renner said. "If we do succeed, they're going to be saying that we've already got enough money. I think that's a difficulty that we're just going to have to deal with."

The foundation plans to spend about $7 million this year on its ad campaign targeting 11 to 15-year-olds. The foundation's annual operating budget is $47.2 million.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 22.2 percent of Ohio high school students smoked as of 2003, the most recent year for which figures are available.

A series of surveys of approximately 1,650 youths between 2003 and 2005 was conducted by Research Triangle Institute of North Carolina at a foundation cost totaling $1 million.

"Those [15 to 17-year-olds] who were not aware of the campaign were four times more likely to try cigarettes than those youths who were aware of the campaign," said Jeff Willett, the foundation's director of evaluation and research.

"Among 11 to 14-year-olds, those who received tobacco-use prevention education in the classroom were 64 percent less likely [to smoke] than those without," he said.

Among those listening to the findings was Rep. Chuck Calvert (R., Medina), chairman of the House Finance Committee. He said last year that the foundation, with some $300 million already in its coffers, had enough money for its mission even after the committee redirected its latest checks.

"The one thing we've been asking them to do is to develop some statistics as to how the stand program is working," he said. "You don't get the opportunity very often to see results like this." But he said lawmakers are not talking about shifting direction when the tobacco budget comes up for debate this fall.

"If we know it's working, it seems pointless to stop the funding," said Bill Herman, a 19-year-old stand mentor from Tiffin. "If we're successful, we should be using more money so we can be even more successful."

Mr. Renner said the foundation is thinking about asking lawmakers to authorize creation of a nonprofit, tax-exempt organization that could accept charitable contributions.

"We're allowed to accept money, but a state agency with $300 million in the bank going and saying, 'Anybody want to contribute money to us?' is not a vehicle that generates a lot of enthusiastic support," he said.

Contact Jim Provance at:

jprovance@theblade.com

or 614-221-0496.



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