Originally created 11/04/99

Forum addresses uses for settlement money



Keeping children in Augusta from ever picking up a cigarette would be a logical use of money from a settlement with tobacco companies, anti-smoking advocates say. But they know they will have to compete with a number of causes for a piece of the state's $4.8 billion share.

"We don't want to be sitting here a year from now, saying, `What happened? What happened to the money?"' said Diane Beistle, project manager for the Coalition for a Healthy and Responsible Georgia. The group held a heavily attended forum Wednesday about the need for smoking prevention programs, part of a series of forums in six cities.

The group also presented its recommendation that a third of the tobacco settlement money Georgia will receive -- about $60 million a year -- to go into an endowment to fund a wide range of prevention services, education, assistance with quitting and enforcement of underage tobacco laws. In one year, Florida's program of education, assistance and stepped up prosecution lowered smoking among middle school students by 21 percent and by 8 percent among high school students, said William Weston, pediatrician and primary care consultant to the East Central Health District.

"Today we must ask ourselves what kind of future we want our children to experience," Dr. Weston said. "Do we want one filled with hope and opportunity or one filled with pain and suffering?"

So far, Gov. Roy Barnes has said only that one-third of the settlement money would go to rural economic development, and of the rest, school nurses and "expansion of health care" would be priorities. The board of the Department of Community Health will hold a public hearing in Macon on Wednesday before making its recommendations on how the money should be spent. Anti-smoking advocates think they can make a case that smoking prevention would have the biggest impact.

"If you don't reduce tobacco use, you're just going to face greater Medicare costs and Medicaid (costs) in the future," Ms. Beistle said.

Reach Tom Corwin at (706) 823-3213.